In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling eliminating the use of race in college admissions, there has been a growing conversation about the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in higher education.
While encouraging scholars to consider HBCUs is a valid idea, it is essential to recognize that these institutions may require time and strategic planning to accommodate a significant increase in student enrollment. Greater investment in various aspects of HBCUs — such as housing, classrooms, food services, and administrative support — is critical to the long-term success of the students and the institution.
However, there is an opportunity to support HBCUs, elevate their status, increase revenues, and attract students who might otherwise be attracted to larger colleges and universities across the country. This can be achieved by focusing on bringing top athletes to HBCUs. Although this transition will not happen overnight, it is worth pursuing.
Student-athletes are often drawn to renowned college programs due to factors such as excellent facilities, access to exceptional coaches, state-of-the-art resources, media exposure, and the potential to become professional athletes. However, many HBCUs currently do not meet these standards across the board.
Now is the time to invest in HBCU athletic programs, enabling them to compete for and attract top football and basketball recruits, many of whom happen to be African American.
I have had many conversations with a friend involved in college athletics that has shed some light on the requirements for small schools to consistently compete at a national level.
Upgrading facilities and maintaining an annual department budget ranging from $25 million to $50 million are necessary steps. While these numbers may seem daunting, the process can be done gradually with both short-term and long-term benchmarks. Starting with basketball, a sport with fewer players, allows for a manageable investment that can yield significant returns through effective national marketing.
Imagine if 10 HBCUs could successfully recruit top basketball talents, competing head-to-head with powerhouse programs like Duke, North Carolina, UCLA, Kentucky, and Michigan. Envision these HBCUs contending for Sweet 16 berths and championships during March Madness. With only 12 to 13 players required on a basketball roster, these schools could transition from merely celebrating participation when they make it to the “Big Dance” to expecting success every year.
To build a successful basketball program, an annual investment of around $15 million, in addition to facility upgrades (workout facilities, gymnasiums, housing, etc.), can quickly change the plight of the program.
Let’s take a look at some of the larger HBCUs like Howard and FAMU, which may be better positioned than others to compete sooner than later. Both schools graduate over 1,000 students annually, providing a significant alumni base capable of supporting their athletic programs. If 5,000 alumni donated $2,400 per year ($200 per month) and designated the funds for the athletic department, that would generate $12 million per year. Such contributions are feasible for the average alumnus, particularly those seeking tax write-offs (consult your tax advisor and the school for specific details).
Imagine the impact of witnessing HBCUs competing for national championships, capturing the attention and support of HBCU alumni and Black communities nationwide. The vibrant athletic atmosphere associated with HBCU sports is unmatched.
Moreover, when all other factors are equal, such as facilities and a recruit’s potential to reach the professional level, more recruits may opt for HBCUs over “Big Time” programs.
Will they attract every recruit? No. However, if enough recruits choose HBCUs, conferences like the MEAC or the SWAC could see five or six teams regularly participating in the NCAA tournament, while bubble teams from larger conferences will be sitting on the outside looking in.
Some may argue that while these aspirations sound promising in theory, execution resembles a fairy tale without wings. However, examining the rise of Gonzaga University provides inspiration. Not long ago, not very many people knew about Gonzaga, a liberal arts school in Spokane, Washington, that has an enrollment of about 7,200 students. Now, because of the success of their basketball program, Gonzaga is a household name, and they are getting top recruits because they are sending kids to the NBA.
Consider the immense popularity of the CIAA basketball tournament and the revenue it generates for the conference and host cities. Now, envision the impact if the CIAA were a Division I conference filled with top-tier recruits. This transformation is possible.
When talking about affirmative action, we must highlight and recognize that discussions surrounding college admissions often neglect and omit the special admittance programs associated with college athletics.
No one is talking about these athletes taking the place of more qualified students, and why? Because colleges and universities are able to leverage their talents into windfalls of cash, prestige, and a recruitment tool for their general student population.
The removal of race as a factor in college admissions does not guarantee better opportunities for students and families who feel entitled to attend their preferred institutions.
Unfortunately, our students constitute a small percentage of the overall student population on campuses, and these unfilled positions that may be available because of the Supreme Court decision will probably be allocated to international students, who present an opportunity for these schools to generate more money from tuition and elevate the academic profile of the school.
It is time to reshape the landscape of college athletics and redirect the revenues generated by “Big Time” programs toward HBCUs. This can be accomplished by having our top athletes reject scholarship offers from schools that do not prioritize the admission of our top scholars.
By supporting HBCUs and assisting them in building the capacity to educate our brightest minds, those whose hearts are filled with resentment because we’ve been able to send scholars in record numbers to colleges and universities across the county will still fall short of their misguided goal.
Chris B. Bennett is CEO and Publisher of The Seattle Medium Newspaper Group and a founding member of Word In Black.
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