As Norfolk State University’s 15th seeded basketball team celebrated on their way to the locker room after upsetting Missouri, a number two seed, 86-84 in the NCAA Tournament, you had to wonder, how did it come to this?
“This” is the fact that when a historically Black university gets a win in the nation’s largest college basketball tournament, it’s considered a huge upset and a big surprise. It’s sort of confounding when the majority of basketball talent in America is Black. As of the 2010-2011 season, Black athletes made up 60.9 percent of the players in college basketball and the NBA was 78 percent Black according to The institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. And yet in a sport that is so overwhelmingly Black, the talent doesn’t seem to end up at the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. At schools like Villanova and Georgetown, which are generally basketball powerhouses, they field entire teams of Black students. Not just any Black students, but the best b-ball players from around the country. However, as you take a look around their campuses, the basketball players seem to be the only Black students around. Villanova, for example, has a total student enrollment (undergrad and graduate) of 10,467. Of that, four percent are Black. If you do the math, that’s about 400 students including the ten Black members of the basketball team. In other words, the basketball team represents 2.5 percent of the school’s entire Black population.
At HBCUs, almost the entire student populations are Black; yet somehow, they can’t field a decent basketball team. The big, state schools and even the small, private ones like Villanova can usually beat the Black schools with ease. Anything less than a double-digit victory would seem like a failure. Just this season, Howard University, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) along with Norfolk State, lost by 14 to Georgetown, 21 at Oregon State and an incredible 57 points when they visited Indiana.
So, why do the most talented players chose these schools over HBCUs time after time? The answer is simple. The schools have nice facilities and the teams play on television.
Perhaps because the schools have nice facilities thanks to the fact that they get money from TV contracts. The TV networks sign contracts with these conferences because the talented players and better basketball is there. So, it’s sort of a vicious cycle in which the kids actually have the power, they just don’t realize it.
These players have the power because they could take their talents anywhere they want. Collectively, the top high school basketball prospects in the country could do a great service to the Black community by choosing HBCUs for their college career. I know it sounds shaky and no one wants to be the first to do it, but let’s just say the players from the McDonald’s All-American team chose HBCUs. Those schools would immediately get a bump up in talent. Now, suppose the McDonald’s kids from the following year attended Black schools as well. Then, you’d have some real ballers at Howard, Coppin State and Hampton. One more year of that and you’d be looking at TV contracts starting to get offered to the MEAC and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) as those are the only two conferences consisting entirely of Black schools.
Once TV money starts to come in, the basketball facilities will improve and more top basketball prospects will want to come there because of the TV exposure. Not to mention, with the basketball money that’ll be coming in, the schools would be able to improve in academic areas as well,.
So, believe it or not, a select group of 18-year-olds have the ability to collectively improve the image and academics of our nation’s HBCUs. They just need someone to organize the movement and convince them that it’s worth it.
Chris Wilder is a Philadelphia and New York-based journalist who covers sports for the Associated Press and ESPNU.com. He also writes for Black America Web and Common Ground News Service. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Source Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ceewild