A New Year’s Resolution For the NCAA: Its Really Time For A Change

By Jerome James Jr.
Updated: January 7, 2005

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA–As I read through the on-line version of my new hometown newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, I came across what I believed would be an interesting story. The front page headline screamed that according to the NCAA, the society had perpetrated a new injustice on young black males. Being a relatively young black man — although my friend, Jef, tells me differently I still believe I am young at 41 — I know about the unfair things that have befallen people with my skin color and gender.

While reading the story, I realized there wasn’t a major thing that came out of it. The study’s conclusion was that, “young black men are especially prone to getting the wrong idea, latching on to sports as the best – if not only — path to college.” Umm. Now for me this was right up there with revelations like trees produce wood, the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t very good and LA is warm.

Having worked at three NCAA institutions, I can guess this study consumed hundreds of man hours, hundreds of thousands of dollars and a small forest worth of paper to disseminate the millions of copies that will be sent out. “In the 2000-01 academic year, black males numbered only 122,854 out of 3 million, about 4%, of the overall student body at Division I universities. White males, by comparison, numbered more than a million, or about 33%. In athletics, the 10% participation for black males was significantly higher than rates for white (2.3%), Hispanic (1.5% of 81,950) and Asian (0.6% of 102,658) males. The rate for black females was 2.3%, roughly the same as the overall percentage,” the study said.

So they needed to do a study to confirm what we’ve known for years. My question is why didn’t they start with this premise and do a study on how to change things. You know maybe look at a few football and basketball games and then walk over to the science and math departments to see how many more black males they ran across.

Once they were able to identify that only two or three other black males were non-scholarship athletes, they could have successfully concluded what it took them a whole study to discover. That wouldn’t be feasible, though, because then they would have had to actually address the problem. As we’ve seen with Prop 48 and the rest of the prop family, problem solving is not a strong suit for the Not (really) Caring About Athletes. As long as they still have their billion dollar television contracts and a few performers, they’re in good shape.

We have seen numerous columns on this web page and in other places extolling the virtues of education. There is agreement that more black males need to use their scholarships to their advantage. Obviously, not everyone in college is making it to the pros.

What is and always has been missing from this equation is how. How do we mesh the NCAA, elementary schools, secondary schools, private corporations and parents to give these players what they need off the field? How do we do that for non-scholarship black males? What programming do we put in place to take advantage of the resources available to give young black males a chance academically. What do we as a community do besides talk about it?

This is not to suggest that the NCAA spearhead that campaign. Goodness knows enough scholars and people who know have tried to find solutions. What it does suggest is that the NCAA and other institutions that can affect the future of black males need to come together to create alternate opportunities. I’ve worked in college athletics and with pro athletes and never put on a pad or hit a baseball competitively after I left high school.

There are great marketers, public relations people, finance analysts and other potential professionals among these young black men. When we can move beyond the talking and studying stage, we’ll find answers as to how we can get more of them in college. Until then, we’ll spend more dollars, use more man hours and kill more trees to tell ourselves what we already know.