heavy burdens of black college athletes
THE ACADEMIC CRISIS
Lewis teaches English/Comparative Ethnic Studies and
American Studies at Washington State University Vancouver. He
is the author of several essays on African American literature
and race and sport in American culture. He is also author of
of the New School: Race and Sports in America.
CULTURE OF GREED
the summertime quiet on college campuses and in the collegiate
world of sports, the National Collegiate Athletics Association
(NCAA) has made quite a bit of newsworthy noise. Not only did
it expand the basketball pool from 65 to 68 teams (it is considering
eventually expanding the field to 96 teams) and ink a new $10.8
billion deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting to air the tournament
from 2011-2024, but it also hired former University of Washington
President Mark Emmert as its new president.
news items are important because they will exacerbate the low
graduation rates in collegiate sports particularly among black
athletes. While it is old news that collegiate athletics has
veered down the wrong path, what is often ignored is the exploitation
of the young black men who heavily populate the highest revenue-producing
sports. Graduation rates of black football and basketball athletes
are consistently among the lowest in the nation. The woeful
academic performance of black athletes in those sports must
be dealt with swiftly. Their academic interests must be served
effectively. It seems unlikely the situation will improve any
time soon because the new leader of the NCAA proved incapable
of demanding that his university uphold the NCAA academic principles
while he was president of the University of Washington.
tragedy requires emergency attention from African American leaders,
parents, school districts, the NCAA and universities.
of greed is at the root of those pitiful graduation rates. Basketball
and football programs produce the most revenue in most athletic
departments, which have placed a severe strain on education
priorities. Take the 2010 men's Division I basketball tournament,
in which only 31 percent of participating teams graduated at
least 70 percent of their black players. Meanwhile, 79 percent
of the teams in the tournament graduated at least 70 percent
of their white players. Among the bottom 10 graduation rates
of tournament teams, Maryland led the list with an eight percent
graduation rate, while four other schools graduated 30 percent
or less (University of California, University of Arkansas-Pine
Bluff and University of Washington). Rounding out the infamous
list were the University of Tennessee, Clemson, Louisville,
Baylor, Kentucky, New Mexico University and Georgia Tech at
between 30 and 38 percent. As dismal as these statistics are,
they are even lower among black athletes. American college athletics
has become wholly commercialized.
athletes, especially youth of colour in high-revenue-producing
sports such as football and basketball, are shamelessly exploited.
If the NCAA is to be true to its mission of protecting athletes
from exploitation, some drastic changes in structure and values
that drive collegiate sports must take place as soon as possible.
The most logical solution is to hit institutions where they
really hurt. Below are six possible remedies that could have
requirements need to be raised even higher at the secondary
and post-secondary levels. Parents and black community leaders
need to forcefully demand higher academic standards beginning
in grammar school.
* Reduce the salaries
of coaches, athletic administrators and NCAA officials, making
coaching raises and bonuses contingent on academic achievement
and graduation rates -- not victories.
* Draft and institute
an Athletes' Bill of Rights for all 50 states that advocates
a guarantee of the first three years of scholarships and income
for college athletes of income-producing sports (a reasonable
stipend or in a trust- receivable upon graduation).
* Superstar high
school athletes in basketball should simply skip college and
play overseas for one or two years before entering the NBA
College athletes should consider unionizing.
NCAA's efforts to alter the academic landscape in collegiate
sport in 2004, although well intended, produced weak reforms.
The changes simply do not address the needs of athletes participating
in high-revenue-producing sports such as football and basketball.
It's disingenuous to act as if all student-athletes' graduation
rates are not a major issue. Meanwhile, administrators such
as Mark Emmert wink or simply look the other way as students
fail, drop out or are exploited. What is worse is that not enough
outrage or hardnosed action has emerged from parents and leaders
in black communities about these deplorable graduation rates.
Boyce Watkins, James Coleman, NAACP President Benjamin Todd
Jealous and other activists and scholars have spoken out or
called for action by NCAA and university officials of colleges,
but their efforts have registered negligible impact so far.
far back as 1989, only 41 percent of male Division IA college
basketball players graduated, and the rates for black athletes
were appreciably lower. By 2003, graduation rates were so woeful
that NCAA had no choice but to retool its enforcement division
and revise its rules to improve graduation. The new rules require
players coming out of high school with low SAT scores to have
much higher grade point averages (at least a 3.55). The NCAA
now penalizes teams whose players fail to complete 20 percent
of their degree each year. (Programs risk losing eligibility
for players, scholarships, postseason bids, recruiting privileges,
as well as NCAA membership rights). Schools that fall below
the standards receive warning letters the following year. Consistently
poor performing teams could begin losing scholarships in the
third year. But not until the fourth year from the start of
the infractions do schools lose tournament privileges and money.
However, the new academic rules launched in 2003 have yet to
produce real change. As of 2010, black players in the high-revenue-producing
sports still have the lowest graduation levels. But NCAA and
university administrators seem to wink and nod, or simply look
the other way because football and basketball happen to be huge
‘money trains’ for them all.
Misconceptions of Black Masculinity
and Visible Minorities