HBCU athletes sue NCAA for ‘systemic racism’ in playoffs qualifications

The suit states the collegiate athletic association systemically leaves HBCU athletic programs out of playoff contention with several academic rules

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Earlier this week, the University of Alabama and Ohio State University faced off in the NCAA Division 1 College Football Championship game as part of the annual playoffs.

Both teams, powerhouses in college football, are accustomed to being in playoff contention each year. Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have yet to be featured in the playoff hunt.

Near the end of 2020, three former HBCU athletes, two men’s basketball players and a women’s lacrosse player, filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA claiming the athletic association shuts HBCUs out of postseason play in Division 1, as reported by The Undefeated. The suit cites racial bias as the rationale.

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The athletes, hailing from Howard and Savanah State universities, state in the suit that the NCAA is systemically leaving out HBCU athletic programs with several academic rules, one being that in order to qualify for playoff play, schools must maintain a 50% graduation rate. Most HBCUs straddle the 50% graduation line and over the last six years have accounted for 82% of ineligible schools, despite only being 6% of the 350 Division 1 athletic teams, according to the outlet.

Mississippi Rebels and Xavier Musketeers players run by the logo at mid-court during the second round of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on March 19, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

One of the reasons behind the disparity between HBCUs and predominantly white institutions (PWI) may be due to the gap in academic assistance provided to athletes. Along with Alabama and Ohio State, Notre Dame and Clemson universities, the two teams that were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, average about 28 academic support and compliance staffers. Ohio State itself has 46.

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In comparison, HBCU schools banned for academic reasons — Howard, Prairie View and Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Bethune-Cookman, Coppin State, Delaware State, Grambling and Southern — average just five academic support and compliance staffers. Alabama A&M, a school that had three of its athletic teams ineligible for postseason play in 2020-21, only has three on staff, a far cry from the nearly two dozen available at the University of Alabama.

Attorney Je Yon Jung is one the lawyers represents the four athletes and states that the NCAA is targeting HBCUs.

“People are using the term ‘systemic racism’ a lot but are not really sure what that means,” he stated. “This is an example. How can HBCUs be so few of the teams in Division I and account for so many of the penalties?”

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