Proposed HBCU pro league could shake up NCAA status quo

Change sometimes comes through “disruption.” Just such change through disruption could result from a new plan to change the NCAA amateur rules whereby everyone gets paid but the players.

Andy Schwartz, Richard Volante and Bijan Bayne introduced in Vice Magazine last month a 22-page play-for-pay HBCU men’s basketball league outline. Their “Why HBCUs?” plan hopes “to disrupt the existing paradigm that claims the only way for college sports to succeed in the United States is for colleges to extract surplus from two sports (football and men’s basketball)…and to use the extracted value to finance all types of benefits…which land disproportionally in the hands of people other than those African American men.”

Blacks now primarily make most big-time school rosters in today’s billion-dollar college sports industry. Schwartz told Vice that since desegregation, Black colleges, once athletic powerhouses because many top Black athletes attended them, now are willing pawns in “guarantee games.” HBCU teams play road games at White institutions, where more than likely they will leave badly beaten but not without a big check for their time and effort.

Mississippi Valley State last season played 14 road games at the start of the basketball season, lost them all, but got paid a total of $600,000. Florida A&M in 2013 lost 76-0 at Ohio State and collected $900,000, which is half of OSU’s $1.6 million football budget.

Johari Shuck (Courtesy of Johari Shuck)

Schwartz’s proposal, he told the magazine, “would dovetail with the HBCU mission to serve and support the African American community.” It would expose major college amateurism as “a de facto racial wealth transfer” of an estimated $2 billion annually away from Black football and basketball players to predominately White administrators and coaches, among others.

“If the league takes off, this is an opportunity for people to be general managers, to work at all different levels of a sports enterprise,” predicted Schwartz. It don’t have to be just for Blacks, but “you won’t have to be White,” he surmised.

The start-up costs: at least $50 million for player salaries, upgraded facilities, and to hire coaches. It would require an investor or two with “deep pockets…and a desire to effect larger social change.” Also needed is a solid broadcast deal either on cable or digital.

Could it work? Johari Shuck, who recently discussed the idea on her new podcast series, thinks so. She told us in a phone interview that she supports anything that will help lift HBCUs.

“The goals of HBCUs are trying to uplift people,” said Shuck. She, too, dislikes the current NCAA system that has forced too many Black schools to “sell their souls and lose dignity” in order to keep pace.

“I get it — they need the money — but at what cost?” asked Shuck.

The guarantee games, which have been around for decades, are like the old Roman games where contests between slaves and lions took place, often with the animals leaving the arena as satisfied victors. Shuck sees such games leading to “other negative implications.”

Ray Jackson, a former Michigan “Fab Five” member in the early 1990s, was a guest on Shuck’s podcast and fully supported the HBCU league idea. If you read Mitch Albom’s Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, the American Dream, you will easily find out why Jackson likes it so much.

“I think it could happen,” surmised Shuck on the proposal. “We have to be careful…to figure out any loopholes.”


Shuck’s podcasts are available for download on

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3 Comments on “Proposed HBCU pro league could shake up NCAA status quo”

  1. Interesting proposal, but will the HBCU’s be cutting the branch they are sitting on and will African American players who comprise the bench at NCCA predominately white schools; vote with their feet and play for the proposed league.

    The players, not the conference, bring the value and the road to the NBA for now goes through the NCAA. For many players the lure of a NBA ticket is about providing for their family and even extended family, regardless of the realities of even getting drafted into the pros. The proposed league will have solidify that opportunity for the league to succeed.

    Finally will corporate sponsors step up and buy commercial time and subsidize a down payment to get the league off to a good start, enabling it to prosper over the long haul and are HBCUs willing to walk away from the money that help fund other sports and academics on campus.

    There are no HBCUs here in the Twin Cities, but I’d watch and go to a game when I could.

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