As I type, I can’t help feeling the need to make a confession.
Hello. My name is Ariel Harris and I might just be a hypocrite.
Back in 2004, I entered college at UNC - Chapel Hill. The sole purpose of choosing this PWI was to play on the then 17-time NCAA Division 1 National Championship Women’s Soccer Team. Every young female soccer player’s dream was now my reality. So there I was, on the storied campus of UNC to play sports. Not a difficult decision for me. After undergrad and following a very short stint as a professional soccer player, I had the extreme privilege of attending North Carolina Central University - School of Law. My experience at NCCU was one of the single most defining periods of my life. I cannot explain how empowering it was to learn from brilliant and unapologetically black professors like the ones I had (shout out to my constitutional law professor for teaching my favorite class and rocking gorgeous locs at the same time. She bad and might be a little boujee...ayyyyye!). I digress.
So where does the hypocrite come into play? Well, after being just as enamored with March Madness as most of America this past month – go Heels, go Eagles – something kept gnawing at me.
What if top basketball and football black athletes chucked up the deuces to PWIs and opted to go to HBCUs instead?
Yes, I know. The former UNC athlete saying this. Hear me out though. Collegiate women’s soccer programs are scarce in the HBCU world, so this kind of made my decision for me. As a result, I’m only a semi-hypocrite, not a full on fraud. This idea is important, though, so let's consider it.
HBCUs are a cornerstone of the black community. These institutions were created in a time when black students couldn’t think about setting foot on a PWI campus because of the deep fibers of racism that run through the fabric of this country. HBCUs were a safe haven where young minds could thrive and be empowered to think new thoughts, dream new dreams and reach new heights. For the black community, they symbolize a gateway to higher education and professional endeavors where there otherwise was none. And some of the greatest athletes to ever do it are a product of HBCUS (e.g. Earl the Pearl Monroe, Sam Jones, Wilma Rudolph, Jerry Rice, Althea Gibson, and Walter Payton).
Unfortunately, although integration was a step forward for humanity, it quite possibly had the opposite effect for HBCUs and their athletics programs. Today, many HBCUs are financially unstable and their resources are limited. But sports might be the answer to this financial quandary. The NCAA makes a considerable amount of money each year from broadcasting deals. In 2008, it was revealed that the bulk of its revenue came from college basketball, particularly March Madness, and college football. In 2014, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC collected approximately $311 million just from bowl games and NCAA Tournament payouts. The SWAC, SIAC and MEAC conferences could really benefit from these payouts and top recruits are the largest part of that equation. The talent of student-athletes drives these astronomical figures and black talent is a key factor.
So why aren’t these talented players taking their talent to HBCUs? Some cite factors such as inferior facilities, reduced prospects of making the pros, lack of access to televised games, and less recognizable coaches as reasons for failing to consider HBCUs. But these factors are a function of what has evolved over time. If top players make a concerted effort to attend HBCUs, then more money will be directed to these programs. Television networks want to televise the best product. Imagine if the Justin Jacksons, Malik Monks, Sindarius Thornwells, Josh Harts and Jayson Tatums of the world brought their skills to HBCUs. This hypothetical team would draw the attention of national television outlets instantly.
At the end of the day, top black recruits should choose the colleges that will help them succeed in their endeavors. It is my personal belief that these players will thrive athletically as well as academically, personally and professionally if they choose en masse to seriously consider HBCUs. HBCUs provide a unique experience of black empowerment and community that cannot be duplicated. It is my hope that recruits will begin valuing these intangible factors more because the tangibles will naturally follow.
Happy choosing, recruits!