College Sports Offer More Than Just Problems For Race Relations

March 8th, 2018 | by Jonathan Yates
College Sports Offer More Than Just Problems For Race Relations
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Race

In the book “Land of Second Chances”, about the national cycle team for Rwanda, when the Sports Minister, Joe Habeniza, was asked how his country could even think about competing in games after the genocide that had struck 80% of all families, he replied, “We had a bad experience, but now is our time.  Let’s move on, let’s win, let’s conquer the world!”

In contrast to this noble outlook that uplifts an entire nation, there is a race to the bottom in the United States where college athletes are treated the best in history with a scholarship containing “extraordinary benefits” with a value well into the six figures!
 
There is little regard for fact, and even less for what is best for the student-athlete.  In recent weeks, Stan Van Gundy, Jason Williams, Jalen Rose, Shanun King, Victoria Jackson and Mitch Albom have all weighed in, accusing the NCAA and college sports of being racist and unfair with terms thrown around like “prisoner” (King), “Jim Crow” (Jackson), and “racist” (Van Gundy).  Issued have been calls for players to boycott the NCAA tournament (Rose and Williams) and to allow student-athletes to seek sponsors because Yale University somehow survived even though Jodie Foster acted in movies when she was an undergraduate (Albom).  
 
Nothing so unifies across this country as does college sports, and much of that has to do with the NCAA.
 
The NCAA is much like the United Nations.  There is little appreciation for bureaucratic bodies anywhere.  But if these did not exist, there would be soon be a move engendered by adverse events to create a replacement entity, which would rapidly come to resemble the predecessor.
 
What does not exist is the racism in the NCAA that Van Gundy claims penalizes minorities.
 
He stated about one-and-done, “I think a lot of it was racist, quite honestly. And the reason I’m going to say that is, I’ve never heard anybody go up in arms about, ‘Oh my god, they’re letting these kids go out and play minor-league baseball’ or, ‘They’re letting these kids come out and play minor-league hockey.’ They’re not making big money, and they’re white kids primarily, and nobody has a problem.  But all of a sudden, you’ve got a black kid who wants to come out of high school and make millions — that’s a bad decision? But bypassing college to go play for $800 a month in minor-league baseball – that’s a fine decision? What the hell is going on?
 
“What the hell is going on” is that Mark Emmert, head of the NCAA, wants to allow just this as reported by The Washington Post from his remarks at a Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Sports Event in October, which I attended.
 
As reported in The Washington Post about his support for doing away with one-and-done, Emmert stated, ““Only in America do we force someone to go to a university in order to pursue a professional sports career.  Nobody else does that. Nobody else would even think that’s rational.”
 
Interestingly enough, former NBA players David Robinson and Len Elmore were very much in support of basketball players attending at least one year of college due the maturation and socialization gains (and the trend in baseball and hockey is for more to go to college on scholarship rather than into the minor leagues as the benefits are far greater for the players in school.)
 
Contrary to Van Gundy’s assertions, its not “white kids” benefiting from the “racist” system in baseball.
 
Latino players make up about 30% of professional baseball players.  This minority group is about 15% of the United States population.  So Latino “kids” are the ones gaining disproportionately from the “racist” system in baseball, not “white kids.”
 
Minority youth gain even more from the present structure of the NCAA and college sports.
 
Blacks make up well over half of both football players and basketball players in college, despite being under 14% of the population in the United States.  That is, by far, where the bulk of resources are expended.  As just one example, the NCAA pays for the families of basketball players for the male and female Final Four to attend.  This does not happen for “The Frozen Four” in hockey, as one might believe after reading Van Gundy’s interview.  Nor does it happen for any other sports with mostly white players such as lacrosse, golf, wrestling, et al  Just basketball, with an overwhelming percentage of black players.
Enter, stage right: the cries of racism from golfers, wrestlers, and tennis players yet to be heard!
 
This favoring basketball and football continues in every measure.  Football teams have, by far, the most scholarships to award.  The highest average value of a college scholarship for a men’s team in basketball at more than $38,000.  For lacrosse, its around $12,000.00.  It’s about $12,000.00 for golf, too.  Right around $12,000.00 for wrestling, too.
 
For whatever reason, Rose and Williams think this is a dire situation that will improve for blacks only if they boycott the NCAA tournament.
 
Interestingly enough, both played in rather than sit out “The Dance.”  Williams, in a video, says a boycott is needed as revenues for college sports have increased and the value of an athletic scholarship has remained “flat.”   This is an absurd statement that has no basis in fact.
 
Williams went to Duke University, where tuition and fees grew by 27.39% over the last seven years, from $40,234 in 2011 to $51,265 in 2017 (room and board rose, too.)
 
Duke’s a private university, but the increases are just as staggering for public schools.  At the University of North Carolina, in 1999, when Williams started college, non-resident tuition was $10,694.00.  For 2017, it is $31,963.00.
 
His inference that schools are profiting is again wrong as over 100 of the 129 members of the Football Bowl Subdivision schools lose money.
 
A grimmer method for evincing how the value of a college athletic scholarship has risen is to check out the average student debt for a college graduate in America.   Students now graduate with an average of nearly $40,000.00 in debt.  That is an increase of over 60 percent for the last decade.  The percentage of those owing over $50,000.00 has more than tripled.  The increases in student debt clearly demonstrate how the value of a sports scholarship that allows for a student-athlete to graduate debt-free (many times with a Master’s) has hardly remained “flat.”
 
But much, much more has been added to the value of a college athletic scholarship than just tuition, room, and board.
 
There is now complete cost of attendance, that comes in around $6000.o0 at some schools.  Fueling stations are new additions that add greatly to a scholarship’s “soft dollar value,” those benefits in addition to tuition, room, and board.  Gear is better and more abundant.  There is also more in value such as travel, wellness, insurance, and academic counseling, that has more players leaving college with graduate degrees and no debt, thanks to a college athletic scholarship.
 
There are presently millions of high school athletes around the world whose families are spending billions in hopes of earning a sports scholarship for college in the United States.  The families and the athletes recognize the millions in lifetime benefits that come from playing sports thanks to a college scholarship.  Articles in Forbes pointed out that a college scholarship is worth well into the six figures annually with lifetime earnings higher by seven figures, easily!  Those are mighty big numbers, indeed!!
 
Here’s a little number: ZERO!!!  
 
That is the number who have turned down a sports scholarship  for college to graduate nearly $40,000.00 in debt, like the average undergraduate in America.  It is also the number who have sat out the NCAA tournament to protest the trend of the week on social media. The system of higher education in the United States is the best in the history of the world with the student-athletes enjoying “extraordinary benefits” in the words of Len Elmore.  So generous are these scholarship packages that Andrew Weidinger, who graduated from William & Mary with two degrees and was the William V. Campbell Trophy nominee as the starting fullback on the football team, remarked that, “Scholar-athletes are the ones exploiting the schools.  You get tremendous benefits as part of a scholarship along with leaving a great school like William & Mary with an advanced degree that prepares you for a professional career.”
 
The basketball recruiting scandal is horrific, but the NCAA can no more totally eliminate corruption in college sports than the United Nations can completely eradicate conflict between nations.
 
If every change was made, including paying athletes and allowing them to be sponsored, there would still be scandals.  Just look at the FIFA corruption case.   There will be always be problems in college sports as this is simply the nature of anything involving humans (Madison in Federalist 51, ….Bueller, Bueller, Bueller, anyone, anyone?).  But anyone searching for racism at the NCAA is not going to find it after looking at the facts.

Jonathan Yates About Jonathan Yates
Jonathan Yates spent much of his career working for Members of Congress in a variety of press and legislative posts. Positions he has held working for Members of Congress and state legislators include Chief of Staff, General Counsel, Legislative Director, Press Secretary, and Legislative Assistant. His journalistic work has appeared in such periodicals as The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Investor's Business Daily, and TheStreet, among others. He has degrees from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown University Law Center; and has also matriculated at the U.S. Naval War College and The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Jonathan also hosts The Culture of Sports You can follow Jonathan Yates on Twitter at @politicsports13

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