By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
This week, the NCAA officially started a new chapter in its organizational history by unanimously voting to allow college athletes the ability to get paid based off their name, image and general likeness.
This is a long overdue reckoning of a long-irrational institutional mandate that needed to be overturned. But this one act of clear-headedness doesn’t wipe away the pigheadedness that has defined the entire history of the NCAA in regards to compensating the athletes that have long kept the organization flush with cash.
In short, though this week’s decision is a definite positive step forward, it is also a hypocritical move that the NCAA had to make. Quite a few athletes stand do benefit from it, but one larger group could be entirely transformed by this move — the HBCU community.
We must not overlook the original, established viewpoint of how the NCAA views its athletes, which is as free labor opposed to fully-protected employees. It would be highly likely that a poll of the NCAA’s top university presidents or athletic directors would provide an answer of “yes” to the question of “is a free education a suitable compensation for NCAA student athletes?”
Although a fully-funded college education is of much value, college athletics does plenty to add to that value. Using scholarships as a means of compensation for a job’s worth of work does not justify the many time-intensive duties of a college athlete, nor does it acknowledges the reality that an entire financial system powers college athletics involving such established forces as television networks, stadium vendors and connections with community captains of industry i.e. boosters.
Steve Siebold, a former collegiate and professional athlete who is author of the book ‘How Money Works,’ says the NCAA’s announcement, while a step in the right direction, is not good enough and stated his disagreement with the free education argument due to the fact that there is more to life than just an education.
“The problem with the free education argument is that from a monetary standpoint, these athletes deserve a lot more than that free education. So yes, they save $150,000-$200,000 or whatever the number is over the course of four years on the cost of school, housing, meals, etc., but what do they really get in the end? A piece of paper,” Siebold said.
“There’s nothing wrong with a college degree, and in fact it’s something to be very proud of. The problem, however, is that a college degree on its own isn’t going to make anyone successful.”
Due to the backlash of many people, including LeBron James and the California government, the NCAA had to quickly act to modify the rule. The modified rule increases the odds of players considering/staying in college. But the modified rule can also potentially increase the chances and opportunities of top recruits going to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Per The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill, the NCAA reported $1.1 billion in revenue for its 2017 fiscal year. Most of that money comes from the Division I men’s basketball tournament. In 2016, the NCAA extended its television agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting through 2032—an $8.8 billion deal. About 30 Division I schools each bring in at least $100 million in athletic revenue every year.
Almost all of these schools are majority white — in fact, Black men make up only 2.4 percent of the total undergraduate population of the 65 schools in the so-called Power Five athletic conferences. Yet Black men make up 55% of the football players in those conferences, and 56% of basketball players.
One of the biggest reasons why not many top recruits go to HBCU’s is due to the lack of funding. Big D-1 schools offer more notoriety as well as the provision of resources that HBCU’s aren’t catered to.
However, HBCU’s, like the NCAA claims as their true form of compensation, offer success outside of the realm of sports. According to Hill, HBCU’s have produced 80% of America’s Black judges, 50% of the Black lawyers, 50% of the Black doctors, 40% of the Black engineers, 40% of the Black members of Congress and 13% of the Black CEOs in our nation.
HBCU’s have shown that they can gain interest from top high school prospects/current players that look at HBCU’s as transfer schools. Top 2020 men’s basketball recruits Josh Christopher and Makur Maker made official recruiting visits to Howard University this year, and they both highlighted the importance of not overlooking HBCU’s and idea of potentially changing the narrative in the relationship between top high school recruits and HBCU athletics.
“I think we’re starting a different culture with top recruits coming in to visit here and taking this seriously,” Maker said via The Undefeated. “A lot of HBCUs are being overlooked.”
Born during this nation’s long period standing with Jim Crow and legal segregation, HBCUs once got their pick of all the top black athletes of their time. As segregation in higher education became struck down in the courts, the availability to attend richer and more well-connected institutions made HBCUs a lesser choice for the elite basketball and football athletes that power so much of the billions of dollars funneling through the NCAA’s member institutions each year.
Imagine if top Black recruits flip the script and change the landscape of college basketball like the University of Michigan’s Fab Five. With the rise of awareness in the HBCU athletics and now the modified rule that NCAA athletes can get paid, this could provide a more even opportunity for them to lure top recruits to join the HBCU movement while installing a present-day push to the historical success of the HBCU athletic community.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media