“You Treated Fairly?”: Open Letter to Philly’s Grassroots Hoops Community

Milk crateThe 1st hoop for many, many Philly ballers!!

If you ain’t ever been to the ghetto
Don’t ever come to the ghetto
‘Cause you ain’t understand the ghetto
And stay the fuck out of the ghetto…
“Ghetto Bastard” Naughty By Nature

Basketball is THE inner city game. It is the game played in the ghetto, ‘round the way and in the ‘hood. Every year black communities and neighborhoods many consider off-limits to outsiders are invaded by representatives of multi-million dollar college athletic departments. Wave after wave of college coaches regularly venture into places most white people avoid after sundown. The trained eye can spot ’em a mile away.  You see ‘em roll up in rental cars fresh off the private jets looking lost in public housing developments.  The team logo and that of their shoe company sponsor featured prominently on a new golf shirt or sweater if it’s a lil’ chilly outside.  The over-sized Conference Championship ring is dripping with ice.

Rucker_parkAcross America in cities like Philly, Motown, NYC, Chi-town, LA, B-more, DC, ATL, and H-town representatives of America’s increasingly wealthy athletic departments come in search of beautifully sculpted Black bodies. They are looking for the young men that will lead them to the “promised land” or at least the “Sweet 16.”  This search brings to them to the projects, Section 8 homes and other low-income Black neighborhoods one after the other.  Representatives of the Math department, Chemistry department and History departments never seem to make their way down.  In much of the non-sports mainstream (mostly white) discourse, urban centers are derisively described and as isolated pockets of dysfunction, deviance and despair to be avoided and in some case obliterated, if the opportunity for gentrification presents itself.

The athletic department reps, the coaches, the recruiters are there for a very specific purpose.

These colleges and universities are vying explicitly to extract a valuable resource from these impoverished communities. They want young athletic Black bodies.  They want to co-opt the labor of our young men and use it to increase the economic status of the University President, Athletic Director and Basketball coach and other athletic department employees. They want our Black boys to serve as cheap labor in the multi-billion dollar enterprise known as collegiate athletics.  Now, it should be noted that along the way he may earn or be awarded (see recent UNC scandal) a degree in some obscure major with limited earning potential.

As bad as this situation sounds, it’s infinitely better than being one of the 72% of Black boys that fail to graduate from HS on time every year in places like Philly and NYC.  These young men are headed for a lifetime of low wage earning or they will participate in the extra-legal ‘hood economy and likely end up in prison. In the ‘hood, collegiate athletics is a possible way up and out of poverty.  But having dealt with college programs over the years, you know others benefit to a much larger extent.  The fates of the gifted low-income urban Black male athletes and wealthy white university athletic department employees are inextricably intertwined.

A situation has emerged whereby Black boys and the struggling grassroot basketball community from which they emerge are dependent upon billion dollar sneaker companies and college athletic programs with $100-$150 million dollar athletic budgets. The existing situation breeds economic success and financial security for Presidents, AD’s and coaches. In many ways, the existence and sustenance of grassroots programs is dependent on the their connection to college programs and the college program’s continued economic gain in dependent upon struggling grassroots basketball programs. Born out of this arrangement is a sort of mutual dependency.

Dr JJulius “Dr. J” Erving in a Harlem, NY Playground

High skilled urban Black male basketball players sell their athletic labor in return for athletic scholarships while the college athletic programs generate millions of dollars selling their performance to alums and the general public.  Coaches are paid million in salaries, bonuses and perks.

As the heads of the AAU/grassroots “farm system,” what are you getting? Are you treated fairly? Do the coaches, boosters and fans respect you?  Over and over, I hear that you guys are “killing” amateur basketball.  It’s bullshit.  AAU/grassroots basketball long ago superseded scholastic basketball as the premier development arm for collegiate hoops.

In Philadelphia, basketball is king among amateur sports. College basketball occupies a unique space in Philadelphia’s sports milieu. There are six (6) NCAA Division 1 Basketball programs in the Philadelphia area representing some highly competitive conferences. Villanova (Big East), Temple (AAC), St. Joseph’s (A10), LaSalle (A10), Drexel (CAA) and Penn (Ivy) all play in tough leagues with nationally recognized competitors.

Anyone that watches the games will notice some common themes regarding these teams and others in their respective conferences. A significant percentage of revenue is generated by basketball programs with a high percentage of urban Black male athletes.  The boys from ’round the way are getting it in.  North Philly’s DJ Newbill is the star at Penn State.  Jabril Trawick, hailing from the Westside, is the headliner for Georgetown.  Another North Philly native, Rysheed Jordan in manning the point guard spot in Madison Square Garden for St. John’s.  Chester’s Rondae Jefferson is back for a 2nd and perhaps final season at Arizona.  Black males from ’round the way are making a lot of money for these schools.

sidewalk hoops

The over-representation, employment and production of Black males in revenue-producing sports (basketball and football) is well documented. Black males represent a mere 5.8% of the total U.S population. Black males comprised 45.8% of major college football rosters and 61% of major college basketball rosters in the 2009-2010. The numbers for the pros are even higher. Over 67% of NFL players are Black and 78% of the NBA in 2011-2012. Collegiate and professional football and basketball organizations consistently scour the ‘hood when seeking talented players.  In many cases, you stand ready and willing to serve your players up to the hunters. I want ask you some important questions.

Are your AAU/grassroots programs sufficiently benefiting? Do you feel like college programs respect the role you play? Do college coaches and fans appreciate your tireless efforts getting these guys ready for the next level?

Is it enough for these programs to just come year after year and take the most talented and highly gifted without considering the plight of those left behind?

Do the City 6 programs work with you when your kids can’t afford the $200, $300 or even $400 price of their camps? Do they give you balls? Do they donate equipment?  Do they make sure you “eat” when you bring your players to visit their campuses? Do they provide tickets to your organization so the younger kids can see the older kids play “live”?  Or, do they just come through, pick the ripest fruit and get back in the German luxury sedan?

Baltimore BoyPuttin’ in work…

Let me know… I’m really curious.  Remember, you have leverage.

If they tell you the kids have to “pay” full price, let everybody know… Tell the other AAU/grassroots coaches how you were treated…  Share information about your experiences…. In my opinion, Black boys have already paid. Let me show you how.

Young men from the ‘hood currently participating in revenue-generating sports (football and basketball) far exceed their white counterparts and other races. Keep in mind football and basketball make virtually all the money supporting all the other white dominated collegiate sports. Think about this fact, less than 1 percent of the total collegiate student-athlete population generates more than 90% of NCAA revenue during “March Madness.” Of the 1 percent, well-over half were Black young men from ’round the way.

Over the past decade (2004-2013), the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has triggered more than $6.88 billion of national TV ad spending from 269 different marketers. Ad revenue in 2013 was $1.15 billion, up 3.8 percent from the prior year.  Less than 1% of college student-athletes generate this staggering amount of revenue, the overwhelming majority are young Black men from the ‘hood.

Guys from the ‘hood played, started and produced more than their non-Black teammates. Locally, Black players scored 73.9% of Temple points last year. Blacks accounted for 83.5% at St. Joseph’s, 87.3% at Villanova, 98.3% at Drexel, 87.1% at LaSalle and 65.7% at Penn.

Wilt Claude

The 1953 Christian St YMCA, National Champions, featuring Philadelphia school boy legends Wilt Chamberlain (standing center) and Claude Gross (seated 2nd from right)

The local colleges and universities want and need Black athletic talent. Their labor is undeniably needed to sustain massive inflows of revenues in athletic departments. Make no mistake colleges, universities, Presidents, Athletic Directors and coaches are making money off the labor of young men plucked from the ‘hood.  The players get an “opportunity” to earn a college degree as long it doesn’t conflict with their athletic obligations. Alums, boosters and fans root for and are entertained by the performances of these young men.

Ask yourself: How do the university’s alums and fans really feel about the young men in the ‘hood? I know they shake your hand after your boy gets get 20 points  and grabs 10 rebounds against a rival. I know they cheer loudly and passionately for your boy when you’re seated next to them at the Wells Fargo Center, Liacouras Center, Hagan Arena and Gola Arena. But, how do they really feel about you and yours?  How do they talk amongst themselves?

Do fans of the local schools respect the communities that spawn the athletes that help them win games? How do they refer to the neighborhoods that border their respective institutions?  You have been there your entire life.  They are guests passing through while pursing a college degree.

One way you can get a feel for this is by perusing the local team message boards. It’s an absolute must for those desiring a peek behind the curtain of cordiality extended to your face during actual games and “official” visits to campus.  There behind the veil of a screen name, keyboard tough guys unleash their true feelings about the ‘hood and those who hail from there. They are talking about your Grandmom that refuses to move from the house she paid off years ago. They are talking about your cousin that is struggling to work 2 jobs to pay that Catholic school tuition. They are talking about your homie that’s remodeling the house his parents left him in their will. They talking about your Aunt with those hot ass plastic furniture covers on her “good” living room set.  They are talking about your uncle in the halfway because the police lied and fabricated evidence against him.

What are they saying? Far too often, they say “Fuck the community!” Far too frequently, they argue that they should “bulldoze your family’s homes!”

MinstrelTurn of the Century “Minstrel” Poster

Then 10 minutes later they argue that your son, grandson, godson, nephew, or youngbuck averaging 32 ppg for the public school ‘round the way should come to their school. They call President Obama and Attorney General Holder “minstrels.”  Meanwhile, the same person puts forth an argument why “Junior” should come, bust his ass and sack quarterbacks for their alma mater next year.  It’s a truly weird dynamic to observe. They make no apologies.  Indeed, the proudly claim they are speaking “truths”.  Many of them despise and hate the ‘hood, while simultaneously yearning for the big beautiful Black bodies walking down it’s narrow avenues.

I say Fuck ‘em!

I say keep track of these public discourses and hold the programs accountable.  I say ask the coaches and athletic directors to disassociate themselves from the most egregious offenders. If they choose not to, I say educate our young men from the ‘hood about the way SOME of the alums feel about them, their families and their neighborhoods.

Let’s not ignore those that wish you and yours harm.  Of course, MOST alums and fans are respectful and always decent in public and behind a screen name.  I say call on them to check the racist tendencies of the vocal minority within their family.  These boards have moderators.  If offensive language it left up, one can safely assume is is acceptable within that cyber-community of the school’s alumni.

Read for yourself. View this stuff for yourself. Make sure you let young people understand the parameters of public discourse surrounding their families and their neighborhoods.

The time has come to make sure our young people and their families are fully informed before they make the very important decision to earn money for a particular university.  If one or more of the local schools is offering your players a scholarship he will likely have other options.  If he doesn’t hit me up and I’m sure we can find a school that will pay his bills.

If you feel disrespected, if you feel unappreciated by local programs and their followers and they are offing your players scholarships you have options.  Exercise them.  Buyer beware!

It should be noted that it’s a very specific segment of the largely white male middle class fan and alumni base making the most vile statements.

Message boards are largely populated by white male alums of the schools. Recent surveys have identified the characteristics of message board posters. The data indicated that the vast majority of message-board users were male (87.8% of total, 92.2% of subscribers), White (90.8% of total, 92.4% of subscribers), and married (62.1% of total, 63.0% of subscribers); had least an undergraduate degree (76.0% of total, 79.3% of subscribers); and were current residents of the United States (97.4% of total, 98.1% of subscribers). Most respondents indicated that they were alumni of their message board’s school of focus (59.0% of total, 60.6% of subscribers). A total of 77.4% of survey participants indicated they were at least 30 years old, with subscribers tending to skew slightly older than non-subscribers. Also of note was the finding that 25.5% of all users were age 50 or older.

Let’s not send our young men where they aren’t welcomed and embraced. These are the internet addresses of message boards for the City 6 basketball programs.

St. Joseph’s Basketball – http://saintjosephs.scout.com

Temple Basketball & Football – http://temple.scout.com/

LaSalle Basketball – http://explorertown.proboards.com/

Villanova Basketball & Football – https://villanova.rivals.com/forum.asp

Drexel Basketball – http://www.caazone.com/boards/forums/drexel-dragons.7/

Penn Basketball – http://boards.basketball-u.com/showforum.php?fid/43/

Judge for yourself.

 

Black Athletes, Race and the Rise of NCAA Eligibility Requirements

Imagine this scenario, a scientist develops a gas that kills mosquitoes but can cause some people to go blind.  Let’s say, the gas only blinds white people with blonde hair and blue eyes.  A few people with white people brown or black hair might get sick but they don’t go blind.  Some with brown or green eyes may get a headache, but they don’t lose their vision.  Blacks, Asians and Latinos are unaffected by the gas.  At the request of the Mayors, the scientist decides to release the gas in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.  All of the mosquitoes are killed but over 200,000 white people with blonde hair and blue eyes lose their ability to see.

Did the scientist discriminate against people with white blonde hair and blue eyes?  Furthermore, suppose the scientist says, “I’m not targeting any specific group, I’m just killing mosquitoes.”  Investigators would ask, “Did you know the gas would cause people with blonde hair and blue eyes to go blind?”  The scientist answers, “yes, but I didn’t target them specifically… I just released the gas to kill mosquitoes.”  How would you view the scientist? Is he a racist? Would it matter that he says he didn’t “target” people with blonde hair and blue eyes?  Whatever his intentions, white people with blonde hair and blue eyes were disproportionately harmed by the intervention.

duke-team-1966-67Duke Men’s Basketball Team, 1966-67

From 1905 through the early 1970’s, major NCAA college basketball and football programs fielded teams that were predominantly white.  In the south, major college athletics was exclusively the preserve of white males for these seven decades.  During this entire 70 year period, there were no substantial “academic reforms” initiated by the NCAA.   In 1959, the NCAA determined that 12 credits per semester defined normal progress.  In 1965, a 1.6 minimum GPA was established for continuing eligibility.  In 1973, the 1.6 rule was replaced with a simpler requirement of a 2.0 high school GPA for initial eligibility, and restoring institutional authority over determining normal progress.

Please note, when the players were overwhelmingly white, academic standards were either non-existent or incredibly low.

1966AlabamaCrimsonTideAlabama Crimson Tide Football Team, 1966

Throughout the 1970’s major college revenue sports underwent a “tanning”  process as Blacks became a majority of the football and basketball athletes.  By the the early 1980’s, Blacks represented the lion’s share of scholarship athletes in revenue sports.  NCAA Eligibility requirements soon emerged as a means of excluding many Black student-athletes from competing at the NCAA Division 1 level.  Like the scientist in the earlier hypothetical, the NCAA says it did not “intend” to disproportionately impact Blacks.  It just happened.

Condride HallowayCondredge Holloway, Tennessee Volunteers, 1st Black QB (1972) in the SEC

With abandonment of rigid Apartheid-like segregation in the South, the 1970s witnessed a rapid influx of Black student-athletes in major college football and basketball. College coaches across the country were, finally, able to recruit the best student-athletes. This resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of Black student-athletes in major college programs. In about 10 years, Blacks went from being formally excluded to a majority of the players.  The rapid increase in Black student-athlete representation was accompanied by calls for academic reform.  Some felt the reforms were intended to halt and even reverse the gains made by Black athletes.

Charlie ScottCharlie Scott, the first Black scholarship athlete at UNC

Over the years,  a few outspoken critics forcefully asserted that academic reforms were racially motivated. In January of 1989, Temple Coach John Chaney declared, “The NCAA is a racist organization of the highest order… On this day, it instituted a new punishment on black kids who have already been punished because they are poor. Any time the NCAA, which is 90 percent white, considers the youngsters in Division I basketball and football, it discriminates, because 89 percent of the kids are black… I wonder what message they are sending. It’s another hardship for black kids made by white folk.”  Coach Chaney wasn’t alone in voicing displeasure.

Also in January of 1989, Georgetown Coach John Thompson walked off the in protest before the start of a game against Boston College. At the time Thompson said, “I’ve done this because, out of frustration, you’re limited in your options of what you can do in response to something I felt was very wrong…. This is my way of bringing attention to a rule a lot of people were not aware of – one which will affect a great many individuals. I did it to bring attention to the issue in hopes of getting [NCAA members] to take another look at what they’ve done, and if they feel it unjust, change the rule.”

John ThompsonJohn Thompson, Jr., Former Georgetown Head Coach

The NCAA position regarding academic reforms has been consistent throughout the years. The NCAA officials said the legislation gave no consideration to racial implications, although it has been estimated that approximately 90 percent of the 600 students a year who will be affected are black.  Paradoxically, the NCAA is saying we know the reforms disproportionately impact Blacks but we gave no consideration to race.

Beginning in the early 1980s, the NCAA implemented significant changes in the freshman eligibility rules. The NCAA developed and implemented Proposition 48 at its’ 1983 convention. The racially disparate impact of the reform is beyond dispute. The rule change had a harsh impact on Blacks, especially those from low-income households.  Formulated in 1983 and fully implemented in 1986, Prop 48 rule stipulated, entering freshmen would be eligible for scholarships only if they had achieved a grade point average of at least 2.0 in 11 core college preparatory courses and, when it came to the two standard college entrance examinations, attained a minimum score of 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or 15 on the American College Testing Program’s exam.

Given the historical context of Apartheid-like segregation and the systematic exclusion of Blacks, many viewed the NCAA academic reforms as attempt to assuage the fears of racist University administrators and their supporters. These critics were especially concerned about the lack of African-American participation on the committee that developed the original Proposition 48 document. A reform measure that disproportionately impacted Blacks was developed, designed and implemented by an all-white committee.  It’s easy to understand why some feel that academic reforms are intended limited and even reduce the presence of Black student-athletes while simultaneously preserving the spirit and perception of racial inclusion.

Critics allege that Prop 48 and the subsequent reforms represent an attempt to devise a regulatory structure that would allow for some minority participation but facilitate continuation of the long standing tradition of predominantly white participation.

The racially disparate impact of the reforms are obvious. In one study, Richard Lapchick of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, found that if Prop 48 had been in place in 1981, 69% of all males entering college on athletic scholarships would have been ineligible. More than two-thirds of the freshman male Black student-athletes would have been denied an opportunity to go to college on an athletic scholarship. Moreover, 54% of those student-athletes eventually graduated. That graduation rate was comparable to the graduation rate for all students which stood at 57%.

C48F2298Richard Lapchick, Center or the Study of Sport in Society

The loophole in the 1983 rule allowed “partial qualifiers,” students with a 2.0 high school GPA who didn’t make the requisite standardized test score, to attend college on athletic scholarships for one year. Although partial qualifiers lost one year of athletic eligibility and were not permitted to compete in their first year, they had a chance to gain eligibility by posting a 2.0 GPA during that year.

In 1990, the NCAA adopted Proposition 42, under which student-athletes failing to score at least 700 on the SAT or an equivalent score on the ACT and a 2.0 GPA were ineligible for any type of financial aid. Partial qualifiers were eligible for need-based, non-athletic financial aid.  Prop 42 was written and sponsored by the Southeastern Conference (SEC).  The SEC was the last major conference to allow Black participation.  The SEC voted to phase it in unilaterally even if the NCAA did not adopt the measure.

In 1995, the NCAA’s eligibility requirements became more stringent. The NCAA increased the number of required course from 11 to 13 and voted to implement a sliding scale in addition to retaining the SAT and ACT as a key component of the eligibility standards. Beginning August 1996, students with a 2.0 in 13 core course had to score at least 900 on the SAT. For each ten-point drop in SAT scores, student-athletes had to have a corresponding .025 increase in grade point average. Thus a student with a 2.5 GPA could score 700 and still be eligible.

In 2003, the NCAA enacted tougher standards for initial eligibility beginning with students first enrolling in the fall of 2008. The number of required core course went from 13 to 14.

In 2012, the NCAA approved another series of increasingly tougher reforms. Beginning is 2016, student-athletes would have to complete 16 core courses. Of those 16 core courses, 10 would have to be completed before the beginning of the senior year and grades from those core courses are “locked in” for computing a GPA once the senior year begins. In other words, there are no more emergency summer sessions in the senior year to rectify failing grades.

Mark EmmertNCAA President Mark Emmert

Additionally, a student-athlete must have a minimum GPA of 2.3 in those 16 core courses (up from 2.0) with an accompanying sliding scale SAT/ACT score. As originally conceived, a student-athlete with a 2.3 GPA would have to score 1080 on the SAT or an equivalent score on the ACT. Currently, a student-athlete with a 2.3 GPA has to score 900 on the SAT. Beginning in 2016, a student-athlete with a minimum GPA of 2.0 is considered an “academic redshirt.” He or she may practice with but not compete for his/her team for the first semester. Under present rules, a student-athlete with a 2.0 GPA could score a 1010 and be eligible for a scholarship and participation. Additionally, beginning this year, junior college transfers will be required to have a 2.5 GPA (up from 2.0) in their transferable credits.

At a subsequent meeting, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors maintained its support for higher grades and a core course progression. However, the NCAA adopted legislation that would keep for the foreseeable future the test score/grade-point average sliding scale at the current level for student-athlete access to financial aid, practice and competition in the first year.

The Board acknowledged that requiring prospects to meet a more stringent sliding scale starting in 2016 would negatively impacted low-income minority youth.  They publicly noted that there would have been a significant decrease in the number of eligible student-athletes from America’s inner cities.  The 1080 SAT requirement with a 2.3 GPA could have effectively eliminated tens of thousands of Black student-athletes.  For example 39 of Philadelphia’s 58 (67.2%) public High Schools have average SAT scores below 800.  The likelihood of student-athletes from these types of schools scoring 1080 or higher is virtually nil.

In effect too much of the football and basketball athletic talent pool would be off limits.  Those consequences led the Board to its decision to retain the current sliding scale standard.

For nearly seventy years, from 1905 -1970, the NCAA consisted of conferences that explicitly practiced racial exclusion.  “Whites only” was the guiding feature of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and the old Southwestern Conference. During this era there was almost no attention paid to academics by the NCAA.  By the early 1980’s Blacks became a majority of football and basketball student-athletes.  Since then, the NCAA has implemented five successive “academic reforms.”  Each reform package has been more restrictive than prior measures.  The scientists remain busy as ever in the lab.  Be on the lookout for blonde haired, blue eyed people walking into walls.

PA, NJ and DE Average APR for 2008-2012

PA, NJ and DE Average APR for 2008-2012

Which schools do a better job keeping basketball players eligible? Which programs graduate the student-athletes at very high rates? For all recruits, these are questions that should be asked early in the process.

While eligibility requirements make the individual student-athlete accountable, the Academic Progress Rate creates a level of institutional responsibility. The Academic Progress Rate is a Division I metric developed to track the academic achievement of teams each academic term.

Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one retention point for staying in school and one eligibility point for being academically eligible. A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by one thousand to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate score.