NCAA Board Expected to Consider HBCU Concerns

Board members of the NCAA Division I are expected Thursday to formally consider ways to help historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) address student-athlete academic performance, including boosting NCAA financial assistance to academic programs for athletic departments at HBCUs, say sources close to the intercollegiate athletics organization.

Details of the ideas on the board’s agenda were not disclosed by NCAA officials. However, the idea of boosting aid to academic programs aimed at student-athletes has been a widely debated topic among HBCU presidents, athletic directors and some NCAA Division I officials since it was advanced last year by Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey.

Harvey, a member of the Division I board, has gone on record supporting the NCAA’s actions in raising academic standards for athletes and institutions to quality for various levels of competition. He has said his support of raising academic standards hinges on the NCAA providing more of its funds for HBCUs to enhance their academic support for student-athletes who are underperforming academically while blazing trails in their sport(s).

Harvey says he knows his support of higher standards is not widely embraced by other HBCU presidents and athletic directors. The push to raise standards has gained steam however, he says, and HBCUs need to figure a way to deal with the new reality.

“The train has left the station and what we need to do is get on board and get more funds from the NCAA if we are to meet their standards,” says Harvey, noting  that HBCUs historically have had a high number of academic underachievers in some of their key sports, particularly football.

Currently, the NCAA Division I allocates a small portion of its multi-million annual income to academic enhancement programs among its several hundred member schools. For schools like Hampton, the annual allocation amount is in the low six figures.

Harvey has asked the board to double the amount it allocates annually to help academic programs in athletic departments at HBCUs, a move that would provide the schools more funds for hiring tutors, purchasing computers and the technology to improve their academic training for student-athletes.

The NCAA had been expected to act on the HBCU issue at several recent meetings, only to pass on the matter until later. Its decision to set a discussion of the so-called Academic Progress Rate (APR) and HBCUs on the official agenda suggests it is inclined to do something, observers say.

The APR is a complicated formula for measuring the progress of student-athletes at their respective schools. The NCAA uses the APR to determine whether a school can participate in lucrative post-season competition, even if the institution wins its conference championship.

The APR standard is set to rise incrementally each year over the next few years, posing real challenges for schools with a large number of student-athletes who are academic underperformers.

The NCAA is not likely to carve exceptions to the APR rules, observers say.