The desire to create equity for Black college athletes and HBCUs have spurred a clarion call from student-athlete advocates demanding the NCAA to engage in self-examination and to ultimately do more.
Led by the Knight Commission, a plan has been developed to address systemic policies that have created significant barriers for Black athletes and Black colleges.
The report called, Achieving Racial Equity in College Sports, outlines a four-point plan to highlight systemic policies and practices that disproportionately hinder minority athletes.
The 26-page document notes that 70 percent of Black students who attend HBCUs come from low-income families with many coming from secondary education systems where they have been inadequately prepared for college.
“These numbers establish a barrier to quality education without help and resources,” Knight Commission Chair Len Elmore told HBCU Sports Wednesday. “And there are a number of recommendations that we have certainly made to essentially try to address those areas and try to allow the NCAA member institutions, the College Football Playoff to address closing educational opportunity gaps, which exists between black college athletes, regardless of institution.”
Elmore is also joined by co-chairs Jacques McClendon, director of player engagement for the Los Angeles Rams, and Shanteona Keys, manager of education at the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
One of the areas where HBCUs have been compromised and disproportionately impacted is how the NCAA doles out penalties for athletic programs that fail to reach the Academic Progress Rate threshold.
Even though Black colleges comprise 7 percent of all Division I schools, they account for 72 percent of all APR postseason infractions.
Elmore, a former University of Maryland basketball and NBA player and college basketball analyst, said resources — and the lack of access to them — is a hurdle that needs to be rectified.
“And one of the biggest reasons is because they (HBCUs) don’t have the same resources to continue to help the athletes beyond just becoming quality athletes that become quality students and to maintain the numbers necessary to be eligible,” said Elmore. “There is the accelerating academic progress program provided funding for low resource institutions, to help them meet APR standards but it’s woefully underfunded.”
In December, a group of former HBCU athletes filed a lawsuit against the NCAA claiming academic standards and subsequent penalties for not meeting them disproportionately discriminates against black athletes and universities.
They demanded that the APR be abolished on the grounds of a “long history of discriminating against Black student-athletes and teams at HBCUs through the implementation of its so-called academic reforms,” according to the 58-page lawsuit.
“It’s different being a black student-athlete at an HBCU,” said McClendon. “And I think that we got to continue to say that we can’t treat them the same as a lot of the other institutions. They need more. One day, we’ll be at that mythical place of equality. But right now, this thing’s about equity.”
In an attempt to remedy the disparity, the NCAA created the Accelerating Academic Success Program (AASP) to provide funding to low-resourced institutions, including HBCUs, for initiatives to assist college athletes’ academic success as their teams strive to meet higher APR standards for postseason play.
Since the AASP was created, the NCAA awarded $20 million in grants to low-resourced institutions, $12 million of which was directed to HBCUs.
But the funding, said the report, was described as “modest” compared to the annual NCAA Division I revenue distribution of nearly $600 million to other schools.
The Knight Commission believes the NCAA should suspend APR penalties for at least two years to reexamine equity in the APR system but also to reformulate the AASP grants program to ensure it provides more robust academic support for HBCUs.
In speaking with HBCU presidents, Keys said, it was clear that time was needed to reach the NCAA thresholds because of funding shortfalls.
“We’re not all starting at the same place,” she said. “We have to realize that we’re not on the same playing field. So why are we playing by the same standards?”
Also outlined in the report were findings that suggest predominately white institutions are not often equipped to help nurture Black students while matriculating through those schools.
Does it strengthen the long-held argument that HBCUs are a better fit for Black students?
“I do think HBCUs — and I think research shows — that Black athletes are more well-adjusted, and they are not having to overcome that obstacle of trying to belong in the space, which allows them to have an advantage in the classroom already,” said Keys, who played and coached at Georgia College and expressed she wanted all Blacks to be treated fairly regardless of institution.
The road to equity will take time for Black athletes and HBCUs. And what direction that fight will go heavily depends on actions of the NCAA in response, if any, to the Knight Commission report.
Elmore called all the work “a moment of racial reckoning.”
“I think they (NCAA) will listen because it makes sense, he said. I think that the public will take a look at this and understand the reason and the rationale behind it.
“We’re at a moment of racial reckoning as well as reconciliation. And we recognize that this systemic racism has to stop and the recommendations that we made are a pathway towards ending that.”