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Opinion: Power 5 schools, built on black athletes, should share sports wealth with HBCUs

From capitalism to class to political leadership, the coronavirus continues to highlight fractures, contradictions and chasms in American society. The latest is racial inequality.

For a brief moment, national and local media outlets reported that COVID-19 is disproportionately infecting and killing African Americans nationwide. Observers from Dr. Anthony Fauci to political pundits delivered various iterations of, “We need to pay attention to this, because something is very wrong.”

Unfortunately, there is no historical evidence that long-term thought will be given to the innumerable ways black souls have been crushed in America for centuries. Also, what’s “wrong” is clear — the expansive effects of white supremacy and structural racism. This moment is yet another reminder that both are long-standing global pandemics that have politically, socially, economically, psychologically, spiritually and physically destroyed millions upon millions of lives. Sadly, there is no vaccine or cure in sight.

There are myriad locations in which we find proof that America sees blacks as an exploitable and expendable population. Let’s choose a popular one that’s also in the news as a result of this time of plague — college sports.


Many argue sports are completely merit-based. Of course, Latest USA News this is another commonly told lie. Historically and contemporarily, sports not only provide interesting spaces to scrutinize inequality, they actually help create and calcify it — including on the collegiate level.

Like most businesses, colleges and universities are losing money. The losses are coming from multiple revenue streams, but a major one is sports. Collegiate athletics factories are reeling from the cancellation of their March Madness basketball tournament and are scared to death that football may be impacted in the fall. 


As COVID-19 momentarily dries up money, a number of high-level college sports staff are taking temporary pay cuts. Some celebrate them for their “sacrifice.” Others reasonably ask how and why these people command such monstrously outsized salaries in the first place.

To be sure, college athletics is big business with the “Power Five” schools (65 institutions including the members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference, Big 10, Big 12, PAC 12 and football-independent Notre Dame) sitting at the heart of it. It is a behemoth of a system largely dominated by white men who become embarrassingly rich largely by trafficking bodies in the “high-revenue” sports of football and basketball dominated by black athletes.

One need look no further than a list compiled by ESPN at the end of 2019 for proof of the insane numbers. In a nation where politicians have repeatedly struck down measures to substantively increase K-12 teachers’ pay, college football and basketball coaches are the highest paid state employees in 40 of the 50 states. That is a staggering figure that once again shows how misguided our country’s priorities are.

As colleges and universities (often in poor states) cry broke, raise student tuition and underpay their faculties, some of the sports salaries are mind-blowing. On the extreme low end is Rhode Island basketball coach David Cox at a paltry $700,000 a year. His salary is an anomaly. Most are much higher. At the high end are men like Alabama football coach Nick Saban at $8.9 million. Clemson football coach Dabo Sweeney and Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari both clock in at $9.3 million.

Like street pimps with damaged prey, these systems identify, cultivate and divvy up black teenagers like European colonists carved up Africa. Indeed, before his death in 2015, Walter Byers (the NCAA’s first executive director, who served from 1951 to 1988), admitted that a “neo-plantation mentality” exists in this arrangement, where coaches and administrators act as “overseers and supervisors.”



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Very few blacks are at the top of this food chain. The head of the NCAA has always been white. The Power Five just appointed its very first black conference commissioner this year. The predominantly white universities (PWIs) that comprise the conferences have very few black presidents, high-level administrative decision-makers or professors. There are relatively few black athletic directors. Even though the numbers of black athletes in football and basketball are incredibly high, there are paltry numbers of black head coaches.

Universities incessantly deploy “diversity and inclusion” clich├ęs but few make substantive efforts to change these facts. As a result, these predominantly white universities are usually social, cultural and intellectual wastelands for black students. Academically, they offer little to no decent or informed engagement of the global and national black experience.

Black Studies departments are often the only oases in these deserts. Outside of dominant predominantly white institutions, historically black colleges (HBCUs) are struggling, but remain in the vanguard of black educational rescue in this melee.  

All of this warrants a number of “what ifs” in this time of plague.

What if Power Five schools honestly admitted their “high revenue” sports are driven by a disproportionate number of black athletes and their model would crumble without them? What if these schools, which are benefiting so greatly from black human treasure, decided making real investments in black people’s educational and life possibilities, at and beyond their institutions, is simply the right thing to do?

What if they decided a percentage of their massive athletics revenue should be used to pay the salaries of professors in Black Studies departments at their schools? Before that’s dismissed as silly or financially untenable, consider this. At an ACC school in Kentucky, the average starting salary for a Black Studies professor is around $60,000 or less. Do the math. You could pay for 10 of them and still not reach the annual salary of the lowest paid coach on the aforementioned ESPN list.

What if Power Five schools acknowledged that, Press Release Distribution Service USA since the late 1960s, they have grown exponentially by raiding athletic talent that would have previously populated HBCUs because many of their own universities banned them? What if they admitted there is a direct relationship between basketball and football making incalculable money for white schools and those sports being gutted at HBCUs?

What if, because of this, the Power Five PWIs were adamant about doing their small part in dismantling structural racism and white supremacy by partnering with an HBCU in their respective cities and states by annually contributing at least 10 percent (preferably more) of their athletics profits to those institutions?

What if they said, “If our school has no Black Studies department, we will provide the faculty salaries to construct one”? What if they committed to partnering with an HBCU in another part of their state if there isn’t one in their city or the nearest one geographically if there isn’t one in their state?

To be sure, many people will see these suggestions as another case of black folks “begging for handouts.” Nothing could be more inaccurate. This proposal is actually a model in which a relatively paltry amount of wealth would be redistributed in a system where white individuals and institutions are becoming richer and richer on the backs of black people — in this case, our children.

Of course, many will argue that’s just fine. After all, America has always gotten rich by exploiting black labor, right? But what if this cadre of powerful white folk admitted that, affirmed that it’s no longer acceptable and actually proactively did something about it?

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