Back in the day, the road to collegiate play for Black athletes lay in the small, segregated Black colleges and universities. Tuskegee, FAMU, Grambling, Southern, Hampton, Alcorn, NCCU, Howard, Morehouse, etc., etc. Many such athletes went on to become legends in the black communities. So-called Jim Crow laws were still in effect across the U.S., so black schools played for their own championships as they weren’t allowed to play against the white schools. In football and basketball a sprinkling of those “mythical” Black Championship games still exist today.
Black and other minority basketball players began to trickle into Catholic universities and others in the 50’s and 60’s. Some (Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlin, Paul Silas, others) went on to the professional leagues.
Generally speaking there was a spot for 1 or 2 non-white players at several schools. But most major colleges & universities did not accept black players. The unspoken color bar was not officially broken until Don Haskins’ 1965-66 Texas Western University (now UTEP) team, with 5 black starters, won the NCAA Championship. After that historic event Black players began to be widely accepted at the major college level.
Remember, that the legendary UK Coach Adolph Rupp, a “guardian of the game”,
http://www.espn.com/classic/biography/s/Rupp_Adolph.html …supposedly once vowed that blacks would never play for him at Kentucky. But he did relent and Payne appeared in the coach’s next-to-last season (1970-71).
Perhaps Rupp’s most memorable game was a loss, a 72-65 defeat in the 1966 NCAA finals. Texas Western was the first team with five African-American starters to win the national title, and its victory over an all-white Kentucky team carried social significance, especially during the 1960s civil rights struggles.
Nowadays, one can hardly squeeze in a white player on UK’s men’s hoops teams.
Here, fifty-four years after Texas Western’s championship, 56 years after the Voting Rights Act of 1964, and the perennial “open season” on Black lives in the United States, we may be at a turning point. There is a renewed black protest movement afoot in the U.S. and it has captured the hearts and minds of people worldwide. It is even influencing the thought processes of HS basketball recruits, some of whom espouse the notion of returning “home” to HBCU’s.
Young Makur Maker, a top 20, five-star recruit in the class of 2020, is perhaps setting the tone and starting a trend. While other top recruits have occasionally opted for Mid-Major schools over the elite and the state univerisities, Makur is the 1st top level recruit to commit to an HBCU in the modern era. Hailing from Sudan, via Australia and Los Angeles, Maker selected Howard University, in Washington, DC early today (Friday, 3 July 2020). Makur is hoping to begin a migration of top Black recruits back to predominantly Black colleges and universities, in recognition of the current protest movement for racial equality in the United States. One can only hope that this is in fact the case, that this is the beginning of a migration of the top minority HS sports talent back to the HBCU’s.
If such a trend develops it could see changes in not only the movement of top talent to HBCU’s, but a shift in the NCAA participation level for said universities. Furthermore, we should see a migration of shoe company monies to said HBCU’s as well, as their newfound talent base will vastly improve on-the-court performance across the board.
If 50% of the Top 25 talent and an overall 50% of the Top 150 talent in hoops were to move to traditional Black schools, one can expect an increase of NCAA participation of 200-300% over the current levels of 1 autobid school, based on the uptick in winning percentages and annual records. Many such schools “hit the road” in the hoops non-conference slate to pay the bills at their schools. Should these schools generally become competitive and begin to win the majority of their non-conf “buy games”, the college hoops landscape changes. If the MEAC and SWAC were to put 2-3 schools annually in the dance, while the CIAA and SIAC put one school annually in the dance, that would take 4-6 NCAA bids away from Mid-Majors and middling major schools in the top tier. Taking an additional 4-6 bids from the power schools is unconscionable, negating all the hard work the power conferences have put in over the years to siphon off all excess NCAA bids to their coffers.
With top name talent onboard the HBCU train, it follows that some of the billions in shoe company monies will follow. As MEAC and SWAC schools prosper on-the-court, so too will the schools prosper in the TV and Rights game as well. The sports public will want to see the top talent play and not want to merely wait for the NCAA Tourney to see them. While not in high $100 millions or $200 millions as with Kansas or UCLA, HBCU’s will see an major uptick in both their TV and shoe company contracts.
Such a migration would be good for the college games. Siphoning off a significant portion of top talent would become an equalizer in sports. No longer would a mere handful of “elite” schools have a stranglehold on NCAA Titles, but they would no longer have the talent to reel off strings of gaudy annual w/l records. Spreading the top talent across a broader spectrum of schools would have a leveling effect on the big schools. As such, the realistic possiblities for winning a national championship would increase from the current 10 schools to upwards of 50 schools. The deck would become less “stacked” against the non-elite schools.
Here’s hoping for Maker and his peers to follow through and set a trend of top recruits committing to HBCU’s. Here’s hoping for a trend of spreading the recruiting wealth around towards making a more level playing field in Div 1 Basketball (and football too). And here’s hoping the current protests for racial equality bear real and significant progress for all minority folk in the USA. It’s the least to ask for after nearly 500 years (1524 AD) of slavery and inequality in the United States.
Congrats to Makur Maker on his choice of Howard University. An excellent decision.