Challenging The NCAA: HBCUs Say No More Discrimination In Academic Rules

By Tom Goldman, NPR

For more than 50 years, the NCAA has imposed academic rules to make sure college athletes aren’t just athletes, and the decades-long process has generated plenty of controversy.

Critics claim the academic standards, and the penalties for not meeting them, discriminate against Black college athletes and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Now, lawyers have filed a class action, civil rights lawsuit demanding the NCAA’s current system, called the Academic Performance Program, be abolished.

Putting HBCUs at a disadvantage

The APP requires college teams to hit certain academic benchmarks. If a team comes up short of the benchmark, which uses a metric called the APR (Academic Progress Rate), the punishment can range from having practice time cut, to a ban on postseason play.

The benchmarks are based on team members’ grades, eligibility, whether they’re graduating or staying in school. And they put HBCUs at a disadvantage.

Attorney Beth Fegan says that’s because an important part of HBCUs mission has always been to enroll low income, first generation and at-risk students.

“And so HBCUs are already starting at lower graduation success rates, lower academic progress rates,” Fegan said, “and yet they’re being held to the same benchmarks as predominantly white institutions who don’t have the mission [HBCUs do]. The NCAA should be supporting the mission of HBCUs, not penalizing them for it.”

Fegan has done battle with the NCAA before. The discrimination lawsuit she and other attorneys filed Thursday in Federal District Court, zeroes in on the academic penalties. A decade’s worth, that Fegan says skews dramatically toward HBCUs.


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