For Context On HBCU’s and College Basketball
The NBA is 74.4 percent black according to Richard Lapchick.
It is no secret that basketball is a predominantly black sport. If you look at any court, you’ll find kids of various colors and creed, but more often than not, you’ll find minority kids.
Kids who look up to players like Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, and Kawhi Leonard; not just because they are great basketball players, but also because they look like them.
So, with the overwhelming majority of basketball players being black, why aren’t HBCU’s dominating more in college basketball? Why didn’t players like Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, and Kawhi Leonard go to historically black colleges? Why is it so difficult for HBCU’s to recruit top prospects?
The answer lies in the finances
Teams like Central State don’t have the same budget as teams like Duke. A large athletic budget allows programs to upgrade facilities, upgrade travel, and get the latest in everything. Larger athletic budgets allow teams to hire better coaches, create extensive recruiting networks, and wow recruits when they come to visit. Without money, growing an athletics department is difficult.
The truth is, money makes the world go round; in sports, that notion is all but reaffirmed. A beautiful article was written by Jemele Hill of The Athletic which discusses how the financial differences between HBCU’s and predominantly white universities are stringent upon black athletes.
One of the cases she illuminates is between the University of Alabama and Prairie View A&M.
Alabama, in 2016-17, brought in 174 million dollars. On the other hand, Prairie View A&M brought in less than 18 million.
This difference in revenue is not new. The difference in the endowment isn’t new as well. On average, HBCU’s have one-eighth of the endowments PWI’s possess.
In short, the opportunities PWI’s possess for black athletes far outweigh anything HBCU’s have to offer. Duke will always have a larger TV deal than Alcorn State. Kentucky will always have more eyes on them than Jackson State. Michigan State will always generate more buzz than Carolina Central.
The Issue in This
Now, I’m not one to tell athletes where they should go or who they should play for. That is a decision they make, based on their needs, situation, and philosophy. However, what goes unannounced to many black athletes is the value they hold to each university.
A quote that stuck with me after reading the Hill article was this: “Black people, I love us, but everyone else understands that we’re the culture, except for us.” Audiences and money “are going to come wherever the product is. We don’t understand that, and we continue to give ourselves away for free.”
Money follows black athletes
Athletics are one of the few places black people are given the opportunity to succeed without fear of social repercussions.
Black success isn’t often celebrated. Yet in athletics, that dichotomy is turned upside down. Programs and institutions utilize black excellence in terms of marketing, sales, and TV deals.
James Wiseman at Memphis is a prime example. If that isn’t enough, you have Duke with Vernon Carey Jr., Michigan State with Cassius Winston, and Obi Toppin at the University of Dayton.
They receive recognition and national celebration. However, if it is any other profession, the same fanfare doesn’t follow.
PWI’s have placed themselves in a position to benefit from black excellence. They have recognized the monetary gains that come with recruiting the best, most dominant athletes, and have utilized those gains to further the gap between them and HBCU’s.
That gap between Power-5 institutions and Historically Black Universities has grown so large that it would take a black boycott in order to bring the competition close once again. However, that action would be directly detrimental to the black athletes we wish success for.
Now, that is not saying HBCU programs aren’t great. It’s saying that, in the current state of basketball, they don’t have the resources and finances to compete.
This can change. The fans hold power too, not just athletes. To generate more money for HBCU basketball programs, fans can attend games. The more the fans care, the more media outlets are pressured to cover great games. The more media coverage that floods HBCU basketball games, the more money will be available to the programs to use for recruiting, facilities, and scholarships.
When was the last time you as a fan streamed an HBCU game? When was the last time you as a fan went to an HBCU game? If the fans care, it will make the media care. Once the media cares, incentives for high profile black athletes to attend HBCU’s as opposed to Power-5 schools will once again be present.
The reason Historically Black Universities aren’t dominating college basketball is that fans and media alike haven’t cared enough about closing the gap. It is time to stop complaining, and start building a bridge across the economic divide.
I am a college basketball writer primarily based in Nashville, covering all mid-major activity along with Big Ten hoops.