Long seen as an apparatus for socially uplifting minorities in America, many pro athletes (as well as professionals in business, medicine and the government) credit the NCAA for their ability to rise from poverty to create a legacy of wealth for their families.
This March Madness, the NCAA is running a PSA titled “Opportunity.” The 30-second ad features scenes of teenagers, some from disadvantaged areas, dribbling and practicing their shots, preparing for college ball. The ad emphasizes that regardless of where you are or any of your identity markers, if you can succeed in academics and sports, the NCAA will provide the opportunity for you.
The video, in my opinion, does a pretty good job of pushing the notion that the NCAA is devoted to helping those in need. While this isn’t necessarily untrue, it is a bit misleading when you learn these facts: Fewer than one in five Division 1 basketball players, and one in seven D1 athletes, are first-generation college students.
In 2010, 28 percent of D1 men’s basketball players and 24 percent of women’s basketball players were first-gen college students. By 2015, those numbers were down to 19 and 17 percent, respectively. For men’s football, the NCAA’s other cash cow, the percentage dropped from 26 to 23 percent in those five years.
In an article for ESPN’s The Undefeated, journalist Tom Farrey cites 3 main reasons for these drops: rising academic standards, increased cost and the importance of early training to be recruited, and a growing Black middle class that can afford training, tutors and private schooling.
While I understand that the world of college sports is competitive, making things like Amateur Athletic Union teams, summer sports camps and transfers to prep high schools required parts of attaining an athletic scholarship is simply not right. Unofficially requiring these “opportunities” shuts out the student-athletes who need them the most.
Ultimately talent will prevail, but if the NCAA is serious about providing opportunity to those in need, they should start questioning why only 14 percent of their student-athletes come from first-generation backgrounds.