Historical Black College and Universities are institutions that were created before the Civil Rights of 1964 as schools primarily serving African Americans. There are 107 HBCU schools and these schools are known for their close-knit communities, great educational systems, and cultivation of the skills of present and future leaders in sports and society.
Athletically, these schools have produced a plethora of decorated athletes like Michael Strahan, Walter Payton, Steve McNair, Willis Reed, Charles Oakley, Earl Monroe to name a few. Despite their resumes, HBCUs struggle to allure top recruits to attend their schools. Recently, 5-star athlete Makur Maker announced his commitment to play basketball at Howard University, an HBCU, becoming the highest rated recruit ever to commit to an HBCU.
Why are there a lack of players committing to HBCUs?
The main reason for that is because top ranked players are committing to Power 5 schools (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) that generate a lot of money, have a lot of resources, and have a reputation for strong athletics. In the 2020 ESPN Football 300, 298 out of the 300 athletes committed to Power 5 Schools. Of the two that did not, one took a year to play JUCO, and the other athlete reclassified into the 2021 class. In the 2020 ESPN Basketball 100, 80 out of 100 Athletes committed to Power 5 Schools. Of the 20 athletes who did not commit to a Power 5 program, only 1 player committed to an HBCU: Makur Maker.
The impact of Maker’s decision was instantaneous, just as he hoped it would be. The snowball effect has already started, albeit slowly, but started nonetheless. Makur announced his commitment to Howard on twitter:
Twenty minutes later Mikey Williams, one of the top basketball prospects of 2023, gave a little more of a hint as to his future decision too:
The news also carried over to other sports, as a top football prospect out of Cincinnati changed his commitment following Maker’s decision. Daniel Ingram, QB, was committed to Cincinnati but then decommitted just hours after Makur Makers announcement and is now planning on attending HBCU Arkansas Pine-Bluff.
In an article from the Sports Fan Journal, NCCU legend Joe Simmons said, “ Kids out of high school feel that their only recourse is to attend Power 5 Schools”. He also said “At an HBCU they can develop and play”.
Why do athletes commit to Power 5 schools?
Again, athletes are committing to these schools because of the exposure that could allow them to play at the next level. Additionally, the amenities they offer with the top notch facilities, gear, and training staff makes these schools incredible desirable. However, only .03% of athletes make it to the NBA and .08% of athletes make the NFL, so the reality is that after school, a lot of these athletes won’t be continuing their athletic careers.
HBCU programs like the Howard West, which is an initiative with Google and Howard University that allows hands-on computer science training at googleplex for Howard University students. Among other programs, The Opening Act II HBCU conference helps students with recruitment for jobs. HBCUs consistently develop student-athletes in all aspects of their life and character, setting these players up for success after their athletic careers if they don’t go pro to be successful professionals in whatever field they end up in.
What other issues complicate the situation?
Resources and Title IX are major factors in why athletes are not as interested in attending a HBCU. HBCUs are much smaller Universities and Colleges that have limited resources and funding to help their Athletic programs strive, due to lack of big name recruits and Title IX rules. Title IX is essential to college athletics, because it ensures that male and female athletes have the same opportunities to play sports. However, smaller schools with smaller budgets may have to cut traditional revenue sports like football.
Soon, Division 1 HBCUs may not be able to receive the 100,000 to 200,000 from playing “road-kill” games versus Power 5 programs due to regulations by the NCAA. Yes, the celebration bowl actually pays 2 million dollars, which for most HBCU Athletic programs would make up a significant amount of their budget (typically range from 4 to 10 million dollars). However, for Power 5 schools that money would barely cover the coaches salary. In the CIAA in 2016 there were only 5 baseball teams, not enough to qualify for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, so the reward for winning the conference was next to nothing.
Okay…what is next?
The issue for HBCUs is not the lack of benefits student-athletes receive from their institutions, as they do a great job of preparing their students for the next level inside and outside of the sports arena. However, the issue is primarily due to a lack of resources and the need for more top athletes, both men and women, to start attending these schools. Athletes need to not only look at Power 5 schools and their amenities, but also look at HBCUs and the personal and professional growth they can achieve through their experiences at these schools.
Match-U Sports is thrilled to see more athletes taking agency in their careers. We look forward to developing our own relationships with HBCUs to help further the best interests of athletes and universities alike. We want to raise awareness about HBCUs, both athletically and academically, and the incredible programs they have in place that may not get as much recognition as the Power 5 schools. Whether that be through recruiting or providing information and resources for prospective student-athletes, we are committed to supporting the growth and success of HBCUs. At Match U-Sports we support our members holistically and are in the process of creating ways to improve the student-athlete experience and helping individuals find the program that is conducive to their success.
By Uche White-Thorpe, Hampton University alumni
Contributions by Churon Lanier-Martin and Matt Palacio