Why black colleges aren’t graduating enough athletes

May 24, 2014 

It’s graduation time, but too many athletes from historically black colleges aren’t walking across the stage to get their diplomas.

The NCAA just released its annual Academic Progress Report for Division I sports. Of the 17 men’s football and basketball teams banned from post-season play, eight are historically black colleges and universities. Five of the schools are members of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, a powerhouse of the historically black colleges and universities.

All 17 got sanctioned because they did not meet the requisite number of student-athletes on track to graduate.

The simple thing would be to castigate black colleges for failing black athletes. But that’s too simple.

To function properly, athletic departments require a financial lode for administrative necessities that the average fan doesn’t see: compliance and academic support.

Public black colleges find themselves in a separate and unequal situation in relation to other, better-funded schools.

According to Newsday, even the NCAA recognizes the problem.

“While the low-resource institutions are overrepresented among the population (postseason bans) we’re talking about today, they’ve made improvement, they’ve made significant improvement as a group,” said Walter Harrison, chairman of the NCAA’s committee on academic performance. “They’re just starting at a lower spot. We’re trying to help them with some advice and some financing.”

Too often, these schools are little more than meat for a much larger football program in one of the large conferences. Last year, for instance, Ohio State destroyed the Florida A&M Rattlers 76-0 in Columbus. But for the administrators of FAMU, the payout for that game may have more than made up for the embarrassment.

All is not lost, and historically black colleges and universities and other low-resource institutions should be commended for rallying and raising the academic average. Still, the gap between the haves and the wish-we-hads is deep.

“The large, well-funded universities have hired large compliance staffs who literally escort athletes to class each day to meet the increased requirements,” said John Rudley, president of Texas Southern University and chair of the Southwestern Athletic Conference council of presidents.

“Our smaller institutions are severely handicapped without budgets to hire personnel for compliance and academic support. These increased regulations make it almost impossible for small schools with specialized missions to compete.”

That might sound like Rudley is whining. Yet, how is it that none of the schools from the big five conferences have been banned? Rudley isn’t whining. He’s speaking the truth.

Fred McKissack is a writer for the Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.

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