HBCU Athletes File Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against NCAA

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A group of Historically Black College and University (HBCU) athletes have filed a class action lawsuit against the NCAA and its Academic Performance Plan (APP).

The plaintiffs, J’ta Freeman, Austin Dasent and Troyce Manassa, allege the NCAA’s APP is based on a formula that includes metrics the NCAA knew would discriminate against Black Student athletes at HBCUs. The suit goes on to say the APPs postseason bans represent a pattern of intentional discrimination against student-athletes at HBCUs.

According to HBCU Gameday, the APP requires teams to hit specific academic benchmarks using a metric called the Academic Progress Rate (APR). Punishment for failing to hit the benchmarks can range from cutting practices to a postseason ban.

The suit states the benchmarks, which are based on grades, eligibility and whether athletes are graduating or staying in school, put HBCU athletes at a disadvantage because the mission of HBCUs has always been to give low-income, first generation and at-risk students an opportunity at a higher education.

“Despite promises by the NCAA that this formula was designed to improve graduation performance without having a disparate impact on ethnic minorities,” the complaint states.

The complaint also notes the NCAA knew that its APP’s metrics continued to reinforce racial disparities knowing the graduation success rates for Black athletes were 20-30 percentage points lower than for white athletes.

Manassa was the captain of the basketball team at Savannah State University in 2017, averaging 16.9 points per game. He was also named to the all-conference second team. However, his season ended with a postseason ban because a team from several years earlier didn’t hit its academic benchmarks.

Manassa didn’t get a chance to play, which hurt his ability to get a professional contract overseas when he graduated.

“All schools are not created equal,” Manassa told NPR. “So how you going to hold every school to the same standard, if every school don’t have the means to live up to those standards?”

Manassa and his teammate, Dasent both told HBCU Gameday they were unaware of the ban when they committed to the school. Freeman, a freshman who said she turned down other offers to play lacrosse at Howard University, said in the complaint her team is at risk of a postseason ban as well.

The NCAA has been attacked by former and current athletes for its student-athlete position in recent years. However, NCAA President Mark Emmert has resisted calls to change rules. Now, lawmakers are taking matters into their own hands.

Sports Illustrated reported Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has introduced a bill allowing college athletes to earn money through commercial and endorsements deals.