HBCU Athletes Sue NCAA

Bigtime college football and basketball has always had a fundamental consistency problem. While colleges are supposed to be institutions of higher learning where education takes precedence over everything else, sports included, Power 5 football and Division 1 basketball makes big money for the institutions. Networks aren’t lining up with millions of dollars to donate to chemistry labs or lectures on literature, even if those things are much more part of a college’s general mission than winning football and basketball games.

But critics have  frequently attacked the NCAA for hypocrisy in its insistence that these schools were engaging in “amateur” activity. The fact that coaches were and still are hired and fired on the basis of wins and losses as well as players entering the pros rather than how many graduate was and remains further proof that this is really unpaid minor league professional sports. So the NCAA a few years ago adopted the Academic Progress Rate, It’s a metric that not only reportedly measures academic progress and performance of athletes, but establishes penalties for schools whose players don’t meet a certain mark,

In principle, this sounds like a commendable effort by colleges to make certain that athletes aren’t simply using college eligibility as a training ground for future pro jobs, and are really students. But the unfortunate reality is that the schools being hurt the most by these rulings and being prohibited for participation in lucrative post-season competition and profits are HBCU institutions.

Though HBCUs only comprise six percent of all NCAA schools, they have made up 72 percent of those institutions banned from postseason competition. Last Thursday a group of former HBCU athletes sued the NCAA  saying that the Academic Progress Rate discriminates against Black colleges and athletes. Their 58-page lawsuit demanded that it be abolished, and that former students be compensated for lost income and opportunities directly related to an inability to appear in postseason events.

The suit argues that HBCUs mission, and their willingness to accept students that mainstream schools don’t, puts it at a disadvantage in regards to the Academic Progress Rate. They feel it is wrong to hold them to the same standards as schools with more resources and different admission standards and missions.

Their lead attorney Beth Fegan told the Associated Press that the NCAA had created inequitable standards, and were hindering rather than helping in the education of Black athletes. “The NCAA should be supporting the mission of HBCUs, not penalizing them for it,” she added.

This suit will one to follow closely, because it gets to the core of the NCAA in terms of their alleged educational quest. Clearly HBCUs don’t have the same resources of their mainstream peers, so is it fair to hold them to identical standards, academic or otherwise? A court will ultimately answer that question.