HBCU coaches tend to see athletes as students first


The latest NCAA graduation rates report shows that overall Division I student-athletes graduate at 80 percent, but the oft-overlooked fact is that Black student-athletes graduate at least 20 percent lower than their White counterparts. Even a sport-by-sport breakdown analysis points out that Blacks lag behind Whites in every sport ranging anywhere from 12 percentage points (women’s basketball) to 23 points (men’s basketball).

This “significant graduation gap” between University of Minnesota Black and White student-athletes over a five-year period was the focus of a MSRfront-page article this week. Sadly, most of us, especially in the Black community, rather direct our outrage toward who gets voted off reality show islands or dancing shows than publicly demanding an answer to why our Black athletes — most of which aren’t going to the pros after college — are not graduating from predominately White institutions at the same rate, if not better, than White athletes.

(l-r) Gophers #13, Maverick Ahanmisi; Tennessee State Tigers #2, Patrick Miller; Gophers #32, Trevor Mbakwe; and Tennessee State Tigers #1, Kellen Thornton (in background)
Photo by Eric Miller

Seemingly too many Black parents are delusional about getting rich quick off their son or daughter: University of Washington-Vancouver English Professor Thabiti Lewis recently offered such an example.

“I was at a book signing in Portland and there was a father there, and his son had played with a kid who played at Kentucky and is in the pros now,” remembers the professor. “The dad was positive that the only way his son [would] have an opportunity to go to college was through athletics. Can you imagine that kind of thinking?”

To quote President Obama, “Yes, we can.”

Perhaps it’s time to rethink if White schools are the right place for Black athletes. Are they just a bunch of Bill Witherses, being used until they’re used up, eligibility speaking? Maybe they should choose HBCUs. Last week the MSR talked to two young men, both now attending an HBCU.

“Coach does a great job of getting us to study hall. He makes sure all of us graduate on time,” says Tennessee State senior Robert Covington. “There’s a couple of guys who are graduating early. You can’t get on the court unless you have your academics in order.”

“Books come before the ball. We bring our books on the road and do study hall here. He [Coach Travis Williams] cares about us graduating more than just the basketball aspect of it,” adds TSU senior Kellen Thornton.

Maybe it’s time for blue chippers to seriously consider HBCUs. With today’s modern technology, if the pros are looking for you, they will find you.

“Eddie Robinson [the late Grambling football coach] had more NFL players playing in the league than Bobby Bowden did because we weren’t allowed to go to those [predominately White] schools,” noted syndicated talk-show host Warren Ballentine, a HBCU graduate. He recently strongly urged that top Black high school athletes take their athletic talents to Black schools and stop making money for White schools.

Warren Ballentine
Photo by Emmett Timmon

“These universities make billions of dollars off our student-athletes. If you don’t want us in your schools, that’s fine. We take our best of the best and put them in the HBCUs,” surmised Ballentine.

“The reason why I chose Tennessee State [is] because I felt comfortable when I came down to visit,” admits Covington, a Chicago, Illinois native. “The coaches believed in me and told me that if I worked hard, I could be a better player and a better man. A lot of other coaches that were recruiting me didn’t give me that same aspect.”

Finally, let’s get away from culturally conditioned notions that White schools are superior and Black schools are inferior. If Blacks aren’t graduating better from non-HBCUs than they are currently from HBCUs, then the latter is the better choice.

“It would show America…we have someplace else to go,” concluded Ballentine.


Mindful meeting…

Tennessee State University Coach Travis Williams held “a meeting of [the] minds” last Thursday after his team’s 29-point loss at Minnesota. “They don’t want to walk off the court feeling like this again,” the first-year head coach told us afterwards.


Bicentennial milestone

Congrats to Gopher Coach Pam Borton for reaching the 200 career-win plateau last weekend. “Our job is to win basketball games,” she told me after her team’s win Sunday over Maine. “It has been fun, and we have a good team this year.”


Did you know…?

Before the Lakers fired Mike Brown, how many Black head coaches began this season in the NBA? Bonus: How many NBA head coaches of color historically have there been? (Answer in next week’s “View.”)

Answer to last week’s question: How many HBCU schools have the Gophers historically played? Bonus: Name the school or schools that U-M played more than once. Counting Tennessee State, the Gophers have played 10 Black schools: Grambling, Bethune-Cookman, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Howard, Mississippi Valley State, Alabama State, Morris Brown, Coppin State, Georgia State and Morgan State.

The bonus answer: Minnesota has played Bethune-Cookman five times, and Grambling and Maryland-Eastern Shore twice.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.