Not Keeping Up: HBCU Athletes and Academics
HBCU athletic teams are disproportionately sanctioned for poor academic performance. What gives?
Fifty or so years ago, before they became commonplace at major colleges such as Louisiana State, the University of North Carolina and the University of Florida, the nation's top African-American student-athletes played at HBCUs such as Grambling, North Carolina Central and Florida A&M. Professional scouts knew where to find them, too, traveling to black schools to watch future all-time greats on the basketball court, football field and baseball diamond.
But HBCUs no longer serve as black athletes' primary pipeline to the pros. That function is left to big-time programs in the major conferences regularly featured on TV. Fine. Part of progress includes the right to attend any school, and if prime-time athletes largely abandoned HBCUs, so be it. However, it's not fine if HBCUs fail to adequately educate the athletes they receive.
According to the NCAA's annual Academic Progress Rates, HBCUs aren't getting the job done for their athletes in the classroom, ostensibly the schools' most important battleground. The APR, which measures the eligibility and retention of student-athletes, is calculated for every team at each Division I school, using data collected over a rolling four-year period. Teams are rewarded for retaining athletes and for having athletes make progress toward degrees that year. Low scores lead to penalties, including bans on postseason play and a reduction in scholarships.
In this year's report, spanning the academic years from 2006-2007 to 2009-2010, 103 teams at 67 schools were sanctioned for poor academic performance. Of those teams, 33 hail from HBCUs. Of the eight teams that suffered postseason bans, half hail from the historically black Southwestern Athletic Conference.
The numbers are alarming because they're so disproportionate. More than 340 schools were evaluated for APR, but only 24 -- about 7 percent -- are HBCUs.