On the Roster:Coming Events in Black College Sports
By Craig T. Greenlee
T he college sports scene for this academic year promises the usual mixed bag of on-the-field triumphs and woes. But those high-profile events are likely to be accompanied by some unique off-the-field celebrations and disappointments. Here’s a look ahead at
developments likely to occur during the course of the school year.
The legislative courts have ruled that the National Collegiate Athletic Association can keep its freshman eligibility requirements intact, in spite of litigation asserting that the rules discriminate against Black student-athletes.
In January, a team of Washington, D.C.-based lawyers were hopeful they could convince a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the NCAA requirements should be altered. The panel ruled otherwise.
Even so, Adele Kimmel, an attorney with the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, has renewed hope that the NCAA eventually will be forced to alter its bylaws. Kimmel is one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in a lawsuit, Cureton vs. NCAA, challenging those eligibility rules.
“The only way to get the NCAA to react is to get a fire lit underneath it,” Kimmel says. “And that fire is a lawsuit. Without pressure from a suit, the status quo will continue, so we’re going to keep pressing the issue.”
At issue are the academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshman athletes at Division I schools. The requirements stipulate that students must successfully complete 13 core courses in high school, keep a prescribed minimum grade-point average and score at least 820 on the SAT or a minimum combined total of 66 on the ACT. Those who fail to meet these requirements are prohibited from playing college sports as freshmen.
“It’s amazing to me that the NCAA continues to ignore its own research,” Kimmel says. “They know that using minimum test scores is not a good predictor of academic ability. They also know there are other effective alternatives they can use that are not discriminatory.”
Kimmel says she is confident that proposed U.S. Department of Education regulations, now under review, will help plaintiffs in future cases. Finalization of these new rules is expected by the end of 2000, and Kimmel says future suits filed under these rules would provide a wider scope of coverage under federal civil rights law.
The proposed regulations would mandate that federal civil rights laws apply to all facets of an organization’s operations and not be limited strictly to those programs receiving federal dollars. These proposed regulations resulted from January’s appellate court ruling, which noted that under federal civil rights law, the NCAA could be sued for discrimination, but only as it relates to its programs that receive direct federal funding. In this interpretation, the judges ruled that only the federally funded National Youth Sports Program could be legally challenged.
“Assuming those proposed regulations become final by the end of this year, freshmen in the fall of 2001 can take action,” Kimmel says. “This will provide recourse for the next class, giving them a way to force the NCAA to change their rules.”
The heated debate over the Confederate flag isn’t about to die down.
Neither South Carolina nor Georgia is off the hook just yet. For now, South Carolina will still be the host for early-round games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 2002, and Atlanta is still home for the NCAA men’s Final Four in 2002 and 2007, and for the women’s Final Four in 2003.
The South Carolina legislature removed the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome under duress, in part because the NCAA threatened to move tournament games — and the millions of dollars that come with them — out of the state if the flag wasn’t moved. But that didn’t put the issue to rest. Lawmakers did move the flag to a Confederate monument, but the monument is located in a prominent view on the capitol grounds.
It’s not clear how Black colleges in South Carolina will respond in scheduling future athletic competitions in their home state. Benedict College in Columbia has taken some bold steps in supporting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s economic boycott of South Carolina. The Tigers canceled their Sept. 2 road game against rival South Carolina State and they moved their Oct. 28 homecoming game against Elizabeth City State to Charlotte, N.C. The Tigers still will play the remainder of their home games in Columbia as scheduled.
In Atlanta, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is pushing for the Confederate battle symbol to be removed from Georgia’s state flag. The SCLC has asked the NCAA to consider moving the three Final Fours from Atlanta if the legislature fails to change the flag.
The Atlanta Sports Council, which engineers the city’s bids for sports events, estimates that the 2002 men’s Final Four will generate approximately $50 million for the state, with the women’s Final Four bringing in about half that amount.
So far, the NCAA has rejected calls to move the basketball tournaments. NCAA officials also say they were satisfied with South Carolina’s decision to move the Confederate battle flag even if it is still on the capitol grounds. Officials with the NCAA’s Executive Committee say they will continue to monitor the flag issue in both states.
“Our paramount concern is for the welfare of the student-athletes who are asked to travel to specific locales to participate in NCAA championships,” says Charles T. Wethington Jr., chairman of the committee.
Nevertheless, there’s reason to believe that as time approaches for the 2002 Final Four, the NCAA could be forced to reconsider its thinking on keeping the games in Georgia.
Dennis Autry, South Carolina State athletics director, feels the situation in Atlanta lends itself to relatively quick action.
“The people in Georgia will have to make a move, or be prepared for some kind of economic boycott,” Autry says. “Since it’s the NCAA championships that are involved, there’s a lot for them to think about.
“Personally, I think changes could come faster in Georgia,” he adds. “We had a successful bid in getting the flag off the dome in South Carolina. Now it’s a new fight to get it off the state grounds. We’ll have to regroup and restrategize.”
Topsy-Turvy Tournament Format
For some Black schools in Division I, it appears that the 2001 NCAA men’s basketball tournament might produce a new version of “March Madness.” And it’s all because of a format change.
Previously, league tournament champions from the historically Black Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference earned automatic bids to play in the NCAA’s 64-team tournament field. But earlier this year, the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee decided to add a play-in game because 31 conferences, instead of the customary 30, will get automatic berths. With another 34 teams slated to get at-large bids, the field now expands to 65.
Adding one more team necessitates a play-in game between the 64th and 65th seeds to determine who advances to the first round of the national tournament.
That’s not favorable news for schools in the Black conferences. Those teams, even as winners of their respective league tournaments, are generally selected as the lowest NCAA seeds, based on their strength of schedule as determined by the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Committee.
The play-in is scheduled for March 13 in Dayton, Ohio, and the winner will play in the first round two days later as the lowest seeded team in one of four regions.
But Norfolk State University’s coach, Wil Jones, says the new system won’t be too damaging for Black colleges until they step up their game.
“If we’re fortunate enough to win our conference tournament and get a high enough power rating to stay out of the play-in, it might help us avoid having to play a top seed right away. But until we start playing a solid Division I schedule consistently — and that’s what we’re working on — it will hurt us in the power ratings. So we’ll wind up as the lowest seed having to play one of the top-ranked teams in the country in the first game of the tournament.”
The Black college football classics are as popular as ever. So there’s no reason to expect any decrease in fan interest.
This year, there are 43 classics on the schedule. Some will attract 40,000 or more fans in
locations as varied as Jackson, Miss.;
Jacksonville, Fla.; St. Louis; and New York City.
The more successful classics have become big draws for two reasons: strong rivalries of participating schools and solid community backing from the host city.
The Florida Classic — where Florida A&M University plays Bethune-Cookman College — and the Bayou Classic — Grambling vs. Southern University — are prime examples of how a heated rivalry fuels heightened fan interest.
These schools have been archrivals for ages. Competitors are always eager to win the annual matchup to secure bragging rights for that year.
So it’s hardly surprising that last year the Florida Classic, played at the Citrus Bowl in
Orlando, drew 70,125 spectators, or that the Bayou, staged at the New Orleans Superdome, attracted 67,641. Those classics produced the best single-game attendance figures for Black college football in 1999.
Intense rivalries, though, aren’t the only selling point for classic games. In the Circle City Classic at Indianapolis and at the
Memphis, Tenn.-held Southern Heritage Classic, the matchups don’t involve in-state rivals, but people still attend because those classics offer other activities for fans besides the game itself.
With strong rivalries and fan-friendly events to keep people coming back for more, magazine publisher Bret Moore believes the popularity of classic games isn’t likely to fade anytime soon.
“I don’t see any decline in the classic games,” says Moore, publisher of Black Voices Quarterly, a Chicago-based publication aimed at Black college students and alumni. “To a large degree, these games have become big social events and they’re often played in markets where Black college football doesn’t get a lot of exposure.
“The best of the classics are well managed and have a solid community base to help
sustain them,” he says. “They are viable.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com