Beth Fegan and May Lightfoot Law filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of a group of Black student-athletes at HBCUs against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), alleging the organization’s Academic Performance Program (APP) is intentionally discriminatory toward and punishes Black student-athletes at HBCUs.
The complaint alleges that the NCAA knew when it adopted the APP, a program ostensibly designed to improve student-athlete academic performance, that it would in fact undermine HBCUs’ efforts to meet their mission to serve a historically underserved Black community, including Black student-athletes.
The APP is based on two metrics: Academic Progress Rate (APR) and Graduation Success Rate (GSR) of student-athletes. According to the complaint, each athlete who receives athletically related financial aid earns one point for continuing enrollment as a full-time student, and one point for remaining academically eligible pursuant to NCAA guidelines. The team’s total points are divided by points possible, and multiplied by 1,000, resulting in the APR. The NCAA maintains that a 930 APR is a “proxy” for eventual graduation success, representing a projected 50% GSR.
Despite promises by the NCAA that this formula was “designed to improve graduation performance without having a disparate impact on ethnic minorities,” the complaint notes that the NCAA knew that the APP’s metrics continued to reinforce racial disparities, and that the GSRs for Black athletes were 20-30 percentage points lower than for white athletes.
The suit also claims that the APP utilizes an aggressive penalty scheme to sanction schools that restricts access to postseason play. These sanctions include NCAA championships, national collegiate championships and March Madness, major competitions that ultimately influence the trajectories and revenue opportunities for institutions and players alike.
The suit seeks an injunction to prevent the ongoing discrimination, as well as compensation and punitive damages on behalf of all Black student-athletes who participated in Division I NCAA sports at HBCUs from 2010 to present and who were injured through the implementation of the APP program. On September 13, 2021, the Court entered an order denying the majority of the NCAA/Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint, and the case is now in active discovery.