A host of scandals in recent years have made the corruption of college sports constant news fodder. In 2010, the NCAA sanctioned the University of Southern California after determining that star running back Reggie Bush and his family had received “improper benefits.”
Two years ago, as Auburn University football stormed its way to an undefeated season and a national championship, the team’s star quarterback, Cam Newton, was dogged by allegations that his father had solicited $180,000 from Mississippi State in exchange for his son’s matriculation there after junior college.
Last year, Ohio State’s highly successful head coach, Jim Tressel, resigned after the NCAA alleged he had feigned ignorance of rules violations by players on his team. Late last summer, Yahoo Sports reported that the NCAA was investigating allegations that a University of Miami booster had given millions of dollars in illicit cash and services to more than 70 Hurricanes football players over eight years.
In an October 2011 story in The Atlantic, “The Real Shame of College Sports,” author Taylor Branch surmised that the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, where the NCAA and its member institutions generate billions for themselves and private companies from the unpaid labor of so-called student athletes.
“Ninety percent of the NCAA revenue is produced by 1 percent of the athletes. Go to the skill positions–the stars. Ninety percent (of the 1 percent) are Black,” says Sonny Vaccaro, who since signing his pioneering shoe contract with Michael Jordan in 1984 also profited off the labor of the Black athlete by building sponsorship empires successively at Nike, Adidas and Reebok.
But the real scandal in college sports runs much deeper than not paying student athletes or excluding them from the multimillion-dollar film and video-game industry that uses their name and likeness. Think colonialism.
College sports, as overseen by the NCAA, is a system imposed by well-meaning paternalists and rationalized with shallow claims about caring for the community or the well-being of the athlete who is the raw material in the multibillion-dollar college sports production process.
While Black athletes dominate storied football and basketball programs across the country, the rate of academic success by African American athletes leaves much to be desired. USC’s football program recorded one of the worst graduation rates in the currently ranked AP Top 25 when the NCAA recently released figures for 2002-05. USC’s Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for all student athletes was 57 percent. Only Oklahoma, Florida State and South Carolina recorded lower marks at 47 percent, 55 percent and 55 percent, respectively.
Among Pacific-12 schools, USC finished ninth. USC’s basketball team fared even worse, with a 43 percent Graduation Success Rate, the worst in the PAC-12, but up from 38 percent a year earlier. According to UCLA, the Graduation Success Rate for Black football players from 2002-2005 was 51 percent, compared with 84 percent for their White teammates, a 33-point difference. The Graduation Success Rate for all Black student athletes at UCLA over that period was 74 percent, compared with 89 percent for Whites, a 15-point difference. The Graduation Success Rate for UCLA basketball players was 70 percent during the same period.
According to The Bootleg, a Stanford University website considered an unauthorized authority on college sports, the Graduation Success Rate for Black football players at USC from 2007 to 2010 was only 45 percent, or 12 points less than that of White football players. The Graduation Success Rate for UCLA’s Black football players during the same time period was 47 percent, or 15 points less than that of their White teammates.
The Graduation Success Rate for all Black athletes at USC (including mostly basketball and track and field) from 2007 to 2010 was 53 percent, or 18 points less than the overall 71 percent Graduation Success Rate for White athletes.
At UCLA, the overall Graduation Success Rate for other Black athletes between 2007 and 2010 was only 54 percent, 25 points less than the overall graduation rate for all UCLA athletes.
According to their website, all figures utilized by The Bootleg were taken from the NCAA 2011 Graduation Success Rate Report and the NCAA 2011 Federal Graduation Rate Report. All figures are “four class” Graduation Success Rates, representing the combined Graduation Success Rates of the four most recent classes for which data are available. These figures measure the percentage of scholarship athletes who graduate within six years after enrollment as freshmen.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates California’s Black population at 6.6 percent (2011). Due to Proposition 209, which prohibits the consideration of race in the admissions process of California public universities, UCLA’s Black student enrollment fell to less than 2 percent in 2006. However, despite Proposition 209, Black freshman student enrollment at UCLA has increased to 4 percent for the 2012 academic year as a result of the efforts of the Alliance for Equal Opportunity in Education working with UCLA and UC administration to institute a new, fairer, race-neutral but “holistic” admissions model.
These numbers may not not improve significantly considering the pending U.S. Supreme Court case, Fisher v. University of Texas, that will determine whether public universities can continue to use race as a factor in admissions to promote diverse learning environments. Private universities like USC are not subject to Proposition 209, but Black student enrollment there has fallen from 5.5 percent in 2009 to 4.6 for 2011-12.
While the Black student population at UCLA and USC remain less than 5 percent, Black athletes make up approximately 43 percent of the football roster at USC and 80 percent of the starters. Black athletes make up nearly 90 percent of the USC men’s basketball team and 100 percent of the starters.
At UCLA, Black athletes make up approximately 51 percent of the football roster and approximately 72 percent of starters. In basketball, Black athletes make up 80 percent of the team and starters.
Basketball and football represent the only revenue-generating college sports. USC athletic department revenue for 2011 was more than $75 million, supporting scholarship assistance for 600 student athletes and salaries for 94 coaches of non-revenue producing sports in addition to basketball and football.
In 2011, athletic department revenue at UCLA was more than $64 million and supported scholarship assistance for 615 student athletes and salaries for 89 coaches of non-revenue sports in addition to basketball and football. A new television deal with ESPN and FOX is valued at $3 billion, and UCLA and USC could receive $2 million more than the $21 million per year each of the member schools receive if the Pac-12 institutes a new revenue sharing plan under consideration.
This phenomenon exists throughout college sports. At Louisville, the starters on the No. 2 ranked men’s basketball team are 100 percent Black; the team is 77 percent Black, and the athletic budget has grown 31 percent in the last three years to nearly $70 million, thanks to a new 22,000-seat downtown arena and a stadium expansion project adding 13,000 seats along with premium seating.
In football, 81 percent of the starters are Black. At Oklahoma, 64 percent of the football roster is Black, including 77 percent of the starters. In basketball, 65 percent of the team is Black, including 100 percent of the starters. Together, they generate more than $90 million in revenue, enough to permit the athletic department to provide direct and indirect support back to the school of more than $7 million per year.
The University of Texas has the largest athletic budget in college sports, at $153.5 million, and Mack Brown is one of the highest-paid coaches in football, pulling down $5 million per year–more than four NCAA Division I schools–East Tennessee State, Lamar University, Chicago State and the University of New Orleans–spend on their entire athletics program. The football and basketball rosters at Texas are dominated by Black athletes.
Less than 1 percent of college basketball and football players earn a professional contract. The career of 99 percent of them will end with their final college game. Too many Black athletes are left ill-prepared to maximize their post-playing career options and face enormous obstacles in transitioning from college to the real world. The NCAA’s degree completion scholarship is available only where the athlete is within 30 hours of graduation at the completion of athletic eligibility, which does not make it as useful a resource as it should be for the Black athlete.
To make matters worse, the participation of Black businesses and professionals in athletic department spending is practically nonexistent. When questioned about the percentage of work performed by Black professionals (architects, engineers, contractors, etc) in connection with the $185-million Pauley Pavilion renovation a UCLA representative responded:
“While the University of California has an outreach program to assure equal opportunity in
business contracting, it has not had any mandatory participation goals for businesses designated as small or disadvantaged since former California Governor Pete Wilson eliminated the university’s then-Affirmative Action Program in the 1990s. The exception to this is when a project is fully or partially funded by a source (such as the federal government) that requires such participation as part of the conditions of funding. The Pauley Pavilion project contained no federal funding.”
According to the same UCLA source, no Black businesses participated in the Pauley Pavilion project. Overall, two Hispanic firms received contracts worth approximately 6 percent of the $185-million project. There was also no Black business outreach as part of the $177-million renovation of the Rose Bowl, where UCLA is the major tenant, according to the Rose Bowl Operating Co.’s renovation director.
The $70-million John McKay Center was funded by donors who “recognize the importance of USC’s legendary athletic tradition and want to do their part to promote athletic excellence and educational excellence,” according to the USC website. USC also spent $140 million to build the Galen Center, developed specifically to transform people’s perceptions of a school known mostly for football to attract some of the great players in the L.A. area who have bypassed USC due largely to a subpar arena. Neither Pat Haden nor John McKay responded to our request for information about outreach efforts or participation by Black businesses or professionals in the construction and development of these projects.
Fortune 500 companies have expanded the definition of “minority” and/or “socioeconomic disadvantaged individual” to include Asian-Indian and Asian-Pacific Americans, GLBTs, Hispanics, Native American and White women while basically excluding or de-emphasing Black businesses and professionals. According to Diversity Business, more than 60 percent of the $11-billion Asian-Pacific spending in 2008 would have been in the Black American category in 1998. The shift in these dollars represents a huge setback for both mature Black business owners and startup entrepreneurs who, by all measure, continue to be underrepresented and economically deprived (limited) of participation in the American dream.
The spending by the athletic departments of colleges and universities with major basketball and football programs, as well as the NBA and NFL, represent an untapped source of opportunity for Black businesses and professionals. The least a grateful college or university or NBA or NFL owners can do is to set aside some portion of its third-party spending to benefit the owners of the businesses who produce the raw material and labor which are the elements of the multibillion production process of basketball and football.
As the Holy Bible (NIV) puts it: “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? . . . when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.”
Whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. The ESP Education & Leadership Institute was established as a 501 (c)(3) organization to develop programs and strategies to positively impact the academic, career and life success of Black student athletes and to help colleges and universities as well as professional teams and leagues diversify their capital and other sports spending so that we might share in the harvest of the $500-billion sports business industry.
We have developed a Business of Sports Success, or BOSS program, and curriculum that is designed to identify, nurture and develop key aspects of the competitive intelligence of the Black athlete to help them compete academically and in life. The BOSS curriculum will also expose and inspire Black student athletes towards non-playing career and entrepreneurial opportunities in sports whose skills are easily transferable to non-sports opportunities in administration, science, technology and math.
Through our POWER (People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth) initiative, we will help colleges and universities as well as professional teams and leagues develop creative programs that will result in greater participation in their spending by diverse businesses within the limitations of applicable law, not unlike I did when I authored the Port of Long Beach’s small and very small business program in 2006, a program that has resulted in hundreds of millions dollars in spending by the port with businesses that had previously been unable to do business with the port despite their best efforts.
Through POWER we will also advise and counsel Black businesses on the appropriate protocol and requirements of doing business in the sports space.
To learn more and join the movement, please visit www.thensa.org.