Coming off the heels of my father’s recent induction into the Grambling Legends Hall of Fame the current situation at Grambling hits close to home with me with him being a former athlete, alumnus, administrator, and athletic director at the time of his passing. Grambling's recent boycott was over many well documented issues including the condition of their facility. I remember 16 years ago my father lobbying for the facility during coach Eddie Robinson’s last season so Grambling could have comparable facilities to other institutions’ that the state supports. As he shared with me, “Just give me what is mine and not a stick in a fight in the competitive recruiting of college athletics.”
|Grambling Football Players'|
Grambling’s football players are not the only student athletes taking a stand for their rights. Former UCLA basketball standout Ed O’Bannon is leading a case against the NCAA regarding current and former athletes likeness being used in video games and other licensing deals for profit without the players receiving compensation.
In September players from Northwestern University, Georgia, and Georgia Tech had “APU” on their wristbands. "APU" is short for All Players United, a NCAA protest and reform campaign led by the National Collegiate Players Association, an advocacy group comprised of current and former college athletes and supported by the U.S. Steelworkers union. This campaign is more than about compensation, but also the NCAA and its institutions handling of injuries and guaranteeing scholarship renewals amongst other issues.
These issues cover two extremes. The Grambling football team is fighting for issues such as better travel arrangements and facilities and most of the former and current athletes in the O’Bannon case are fighting for compensation in an industry that uses their ability and likeness to generate billions of dollars. Both have legitimate arguments.
The root of the issue at Grambling is that in 2009 when offered stimulus funds for the state of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal rejected them. That same year, Jindal cut $219 million in state funds for higher education, including $5 million that would have been earmarked for Grambling. In January 2012, Jindal announced an additional mid-year budget cut of $50 million for higher education, with Grambling losing out on nearly $1 million of that total.
Other institutions’ have been able to deal with the budget cuts better because of increased tuition and fund raising, but are still impacted. Grambling’s issues reveal a bigger issue of what is currently taking place with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Enrollment is down at many institutions and many black families are impacted with cutbacks with state and federal financial aid support. All of these issues trickle down to the athletic department.
"Colleges, especially public [ones], face enormous pressure to replace lost state revenues by seeking more full-paying and out-of-state students," said Rodney Morrison in 2011, associate chancellor for enrollment management at Rutgers University. "With the loss of state and federal financial-aid support, we are rapidly eroding access for future students."
Spelman College, a small a historically black women's college in Atlanta announced in November 2012 that it was returning to the old model and doing away with intercollegiate athletics. The school said it would use the nearly $1 million that had been dedicated to its intercollegiate sports program, serving just 4 percent of students, for a campus-wide health and fitness program benefiting all 2,100.
On the other hand, athletes at major institutions’ see the multi-billion dollar industry that intercollegiate athletics has turned into. Debates have increased on whether they should be paid or not. The Ed O’Bannon led lawsuit has forced the NCAA to end their relationship with EA Sports who produced video games and EA Sports reaching a settlement with O’Bannon’s group.
|Johnny Manziel Jersey|
This past summer ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas called out the NCAA over several tweets in regard to the hypocrisy of selling current and former NCAA student-athletes jerseys on their website. Names are not tied to student-athletes jerseys, simply searching “Manziel” revealed a strong correlation between his name and Johnny Manziel’s # 2 Texas A&M jersey. The NCAA removed the feature the next day. Athletes such as Manziel receive a full scholarship including room and board, tuition, coaching, training, tutors, use of state of the art facilities and more, but universities benefit from selling merchandise attributed to specific players and sports without the student-athletes receiving compensation.
Johnny Manziel, 2012 Heisman Trophy winner reportedly was worth $37 million in media exposure. Texas A&M University raised a record-breaking $740 million in donations and pledges over the last fiscal year, potentially the most ever raises by a public university, the Bryan Eagle reports. The University is in the process of funding $450 million in upgrades to their football stadium.
With the current collegiate athletic system, players have virtually no rights. Athletic scholarships are up for renewal at the discretion of the coach every year, meaning that a student's place at a college or university is not secure beyond one year. Coaches and athletic directors just have to give a student-athlete notice that their scholarship is not being renewed; collegiate athletes can find themselves out of the athletic program and out of a chance at an education.
These statements by student-athletes address the broad scope of issues in intercollegiate athletics and reveal many issues that HBCU’s face. HBCU’s must realize that they’re targeting a small segment of the population that have many choices pertaining to where they want to further their education. Attending a HBCU may not be the first choice as it was for previous generations for prospective black students. Some HBCU’s have the reputation for poor administrations and organization must change. They have to adapt to the current financial climate and have leadership that are visionaries with fresh ideas to keep HBCU’s relevant with an emphasis on quality customer service to potential students, current, and alumni. Some HBCU’s are moving in that direction and have for many years.
In November 2012 Hampton University entered into a partnership agreement with the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. The HU-UPenn Biodental Program will allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology at Hampton University and a doctorate in dental surgery from Penn. Milwaukee Public Schools established a partnership with Morehouse College in June 2012. That partnership netted $800,000 in scholarships and will send the largest-ever group of Wisconsin to Morehouse College. These kinds of innovative approaches will position HBCU’s to attract students.
As Samuel Freedman noted on ESPN.com since 2008, when, Grambling has had to cut the number of its academic degree programs from 67 to 47, lay off 127 employees, and defer more than $24 million of maintenance and rehabilitation for classroom buildings, dormitories, the main library and the football stadium. Grambling and other HBCU’s do not have a T. Boone Pickens (Oklahoma State) or Jerry Jones (Univ. of Arkansas) to pump millions of dollars into the university and athletic programs.
For example, LSU and their athletic department can withstand cutbacks with television deals and bowl game appearances. Grambling has an endowment just more than $5 million; LSU's, in comparison, stands at $437 million.
The class and race issues cannot be avoided. Most student-athletes come from poor families and are minorities. Calling home for $100 is a sacrifice for many players’ families. Alabama safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dixon was suspended two games this season for borrowing money from an assistant strength coach on staff. A player in a revenue-generated sport should have enough cash available to not resort to those actions even though he knowingly violated a NCAA rule.
The Grambling’s of the world do not generate enough revenue to even entertain compensating players. When a student-athlete decides to play for a Grambling they understand it is not as big of a stage as LSU or Texas A&M. They should have formidable facilities, travel arrangements, uniforms, and overall care.
The day is coming soon where student-athletes benefits above the scholarship will be in place without taking away from the non-revenue sports. Grambling should not have been in the predicament that facilities are in a condition that has students’ safety and the quality of their education in jeopardy. The recent statements by student-athletes in both spectrums will lead the charge that change is coming!