HBCUs Not Attracting Top Athletes


It has recently been in the press the financial woes of the Grambling State University football team.  Players boycotted traveling to a game in nearby Jackson, Miss, down the road on Interstate 20.  They protested the lack of funding as reflected in their locker room facilities, traveling by bus instead of airplane and missing some planned meals. The school’s response was that yes, they are poorly funded.  Budgets costs are coming from state, local and federal governments.  No hope is in sight.  This brings up an important and very serious question:  Is it time to merge state-funded Black schools into mainstream schools?  This may sound blasphemous but the times have really changed from the days when we had no alternative because of “Jim Crow” education.

School segregation was not just in the southern states.  Many schools in northern and Midwestern urban areas were also segregated in a de facto manner. It was wrong and a hypocritical fact against our constitution and national charter. As time went on, we changed for the better. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were transformed from a necessity to a cultural decision promoting our heritage.  Funding challenges in this nation are becoming more and more intense as citizens demand less and less taxes and better managed public budgets.

One of the biggest integrator of colleges and universities is athletics. Major schools rely on athletics, mainly football and basketball, as a revenue generator.  If a school does it right, they can fund all of the athletic programs via revenue from the “gate” and television shares from those two sports.  If they start to fall, some of the athletic programs (mainly female) will start to fold.  It’s all about the desires of the current marketplace. The schools that produce the largest revenue are the ones who have a tradition of winning.  Those schools have strong and proud alumni who give willingly and a TV market that will give handsome revenue shares to them. Also, sports equipment and apparel manufacturers lavish the successful schools with millions of dollars in equipment and financial aid.  The big programs get bigger and the weak programs suffer.  HBCUs are suffering.

When Tank Younger and Marion Motley broke the color lines of the National Football League, the evolution kicked in. Soon, every NFL team not only had one Black they had a growing number of Blacks. The Washington (racial slur) Football Team was the last to have a Black on their roster.  Today, 77 percent of the NFL is Black.  There is not much difference in the National Basketball Association (NBA).  One might think that HBCUs would have the advantage in recruiting quality Black players to prepare for the pros. That doesn’t appear to be the case.  Prime time facilities, huge and rich campuses, distinguished alumni associations, beautiful women and celebrity win the young athletes over.

Let’s look at today’s NFL.  I checked the rosters of four NFL teams. My sampling was the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears.  Out of 69 Black players, the Chargers have no players from HBCUs (zero percent). The Saints have 4.3 percent (3).  The Ravens have just 1.5 percent (2) while the Bears have 4.6 percent (3) from HBCUs.  Who would have thought that our HBCUs would have little impact on the make-up of our NFL?  The times have changed and this has a very severe impact on HBCU campuses. Recruiting shrinks, alumni contributions, especially from graduating athletes, becomes nil.  It is all downhill from here.

The good news from a commercial aspect is that the athletic make up of our integrated schools is growing exponentially in diversity.  There was a time when you could count the amount of major college Black quarterbacks.  Now there are so many you just can’t keep up with them.  Ohio State which has not lost a game in two years and is ranked #2 in the nation has all three of their roster quarterbacks being Black.

Some of our Black athletic departments believe they can make quick money sending their ill prepared HBCU teams to meet major programs.  They “feed” these poorly equipped and ill prepared teams to face some of the biggest football machines in the nation.  Florida A&M vs. Ohio State and South Carolina State vs. Clemson are examples of these atrocities.  The money may be good, but the school’s image and their players’ morale are shattered.

It’s time to regroup. HBCUs will be small, culturally-based institutions that should be supported by middle class Blacks as a whole.  Regardless of your affiliation, it is important to our heritage to keep them alive at some level.  We should look to better management and more attention given to them (funding) by our elected officials. It is shameful that the support levels by their alumni do not reach 10 percent.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce ®.  Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

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