A recent panel of former college athletes, current coaches, university officials, educators, journalists, and other leaders examined the current reality of Division I college sports. High school athletes are recruited on promises of all-paid-for college scholarships and a possible shot at professional sports, despite the fact that less than five percent of scholarship athletes make it to the pros.
Then what happens to the other 95 percent?
A look at the latest figures from The Drake Group Education Fund (TDGEF) is sobering. Based on NCAA and federal data, 52 percent of Division I men’s basketball players, 38 percent of Division I football players, and 38 percent of Division I women’s basketball players on full scholarships did not graduate within six years.
And “a clear majority of these athletes are students of color,” in particular 47 percent Black and 12 percent other non-White races or ethnicities, according to the Fund, which sponsored the Allen Sack National Symposium on April 18, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The first of three panels during the all-day in-person and virtual event that the MSR attended was moderated by ESPN/Andscape and award-winning sports columnist William C. Rhoden. The topic discussed was “The reality of the athletics experience.”
A second panel featured South Carolina WBB Coach Dawn Staley (who appeared remotely), The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport Director Richard Lapchick, and former North Carolina academic advisor Mary Willingham, who blew the whistle in 2011, on the school’s handing out bogus grades and holding classes specifically to keep athletes eligible.
They discussed what makes up a meaningful college education, whether coaches make a difference in the college athlete’s academic outcomes, and if there are underlying issues such as racial inequities, time demands, and/or abusive coaching practices that need to be addressed.
Black head coaches’ jobs are often tied to higher graduation rates, said Lapchick, who presented three years of data.
Being an academic coach in itself is “very hard work,” added Bruce Smith, the director of empowerment strategies for ACES Group. Black coaches are often asked to take on unpaid tasks, such as tutoring players, to support the team, he pointed out.
Staley vividly recalled an academic coach “painfully resigning” because they became overwhelmed by all the pressures.
Willingham spoke of her under-the-radar review of transcripts of UNC athletes to understand the low graduation issues, and found many athletes took “an [easy] drama class” unrelated to their majors, and avoided business or education classes. Too often athletes are steered into academic tracks that either don’t interest them or offer “paper classes” that they don’t attend, she added.
The author of “Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports,” Willingham also pointed out that race, “the whale swimming just below the surface of this issue,” plays a significant role in all of this.
The third and final panel asked whether college sports programs are for “entertainment or education.” Howard President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick strongly suggested that university presidents should form a group to “tackle this very complicated issue.” This includes treating college athletes as employees with union protections and splitting university sports revenues estimated to be nearly $16 billion a year with student players through annuities and/or medical care with benefits and/or payments.
“We should lock ourselves in a room to solve this,” said Frederick.
Finally, Rhoden’s panel that opened the day, mostly talked about college sports’ current hot topic—NIL deals, in which a third party pays a student for rights to their name, image and likeness.
More on that next week.
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