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Money Flows to Talent: Why HBCUs Must Fight to Attract More Top Ranked Black Student-Athletes

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In this third installment of the BWC Consulting's series, the North Carolina-based black-owned economic development firm, with a history of working with black institutions of higher learning, discusses the significance of closing the economic gap between Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Historically White Institutions (HWIs) by leveraging athletic programs.

HBCUs have struggled financially for decades. Despite their reputation for producing the largest number of black professionals, these institutions have never received the public and private financial support, or the positioning to earn revenue in ways similar to HWIs of higher education. The struggle to recruit, compete and capitalize on black athletic talent is one of many roadblocks to HBCUs addressing this persistent and lucrative financial support disparity.

"Money and capital [both] flow to winners that produce attractive outcomes," said Cedric Johnson of BWC Consulting. "If more talented young athletes choose to attend HBCUs, the dollars will continue to follow the talent, particularly if this move towards HBCUs is done in mass. Young athletes selecting HBCUs position these schools to be less reliant on the generosity of white philanthropy and their selective process for determining who gets their charity. Americans like to associate with winners, and as these athletes build winning athletic brands at HBCUs, the athletic and academic sides of these institutions will elevate."

Winning athletic programs help attract larger incoming freshmen classes, which translates into larger graduate cohorts. These larger graduate cohorts produce an alumni base that is more likely to give back due to a more favorable student-life experience, which can be directly tied to recognized athletic programs.

North Carolina A&T State University, a Greensboro, NC based HBCU, has witnessed some of its largest incoming freshman classes in recent years. These larger incoming classes have occurred during a period in which the university has won the HBCU Football National Championship three times in the last four years. This success has led to the university joining the Big South Conference, and thus leaving the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), in order to further enhance its brand and attractiveness to future recruits.

Black student-athletes have propped up white college sports teams for over 50 years. Up until the 1980s, if the NFL or NBA wanted to accumulate black talent, they went to HBCUs. Today, they go to the power five conferences. This accumulation of power and revenue via assimilation rather than integration largely explains the vast disparities seen today between the athletic programs of HBCUs and power five conferences.

This assimilation-based college athletics model creates a reality in which what is at stake for HBCUs is more significant than a championship trophy. HBCUs are innovation hubs that spur black excellence at a rate that no other institution can match. Thus, when top-tier black student-athletes decide to attend an HBCU, they have the potential to substantially transform the economic landscape of the institution and the surrounding community. They bring with them talent, revenue, and a dedicated fan-base, as well as future sports fame and prosperity.

"As an undergraduate attending a power five conference school, I was amazed at the throngs of people who embarked on campus on weekends to fill up a nearly 80,000-seat stadium," said Johnson. "My hometown was maybe 25,000 people, so seeing how a football game attracted four times the size of my hometown, was eye-opening. This is how you spur local economic activity and opportunity at scale."

With a windfall of revenue from athletic events, an academically and financially astute HBCU is better positioned to produce more successful black professionals and help eliminate the staggering wealth gap between black and white families. In 2016, a typical white family earned $171,000, nearly ten times greater than that of a black family ($17,150), according to a study conducted by the Brookings Institute.

Many sports fans seem to have accepted the belief that black student-athletes, particularly those on a trajectory to reach the pros, are better served at HWIs. Historically, these schools have offered black student-athletes accessibility and exposure to the professional ranks through heavy media coverage and availability to top sports recruiters. Both of which can lead to large financial contracts and lucrative endorsements.

Despite HWI's ability to help black student-athletes obtain professional contracts, the underlying talent lies with the athlete, and this will always be the case. It is largely the black student-athletes who bring value-add to the HWI and not the other way around. It is also largely the black student-athletes who fill the stands with dedicated fans and allow these HWIs to secure lucrative advertising and endorsement agreements with corporations. Again, money and capital both follow talent. Take away the talent and ESPN Gameday will not continue to host its show at HWIs that are not winners.

"Black athletes perfect their talents on fields and courts in urban and inner-city communities, as well as small towns throughout the country. Football and basketball players at high schools in communities of color are asked to leave their culture and community support behind to attend HWIs to pursue a professional sports career, and that doesn't seem fair," said Elmer Chisholm, partner at BWC Consulting. "Parity and equity are seen on HBCU campuses where black-student athletes are well-represented in the classroom and the field of play, including head coaches and athletic directors. It is apparent that the value of the black-student athlete at HBCUs is appreciated far beyond his or her years on campus."

Athletic programs at HWIs generate significantly more revenue each year compared to HBCU athletic programs. This outcome, in large part, is a result of most student-athletes representing HWIs money-making sports (e.g., football and basketball) are students of color. BWC believes that the misalignment between the origin of the money-making talent and the beneficiaries of the talent must be addressed to ensure long-term financial vitality at black institutions.

"Black student-athletes are responsible for the vast majority of revenue across the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), yet they are not represented equitably as students, athletic directors or head coaches," said Chisholm. "In 2019, across the NCAA, black male students made up less than four percent of the overall student body population but represented more than 50% of the football players and almost 60% of the basketball players, according to statistics from a report by the University of Southern California (USC) Race and Equity Center."

During the fall of 2019, for example, the student body at the University of Alabama (UA) was comprised of only 10% of black students. The nationally recognized football team, by comparison, consisted of approximately 56% of black players. Consider the average worth of one UA college football player to the university was $545,357, according to research by the Department of Education and a Drexel University professor.

In 2018 alone, UA's sports programs generated over $140 million in revenue for the school. This example clearly illustrates that black student-athletes who attend HWIs in the NCAA have a dollar sign on their head-one with enough zeros to change their lives, and subsequently, the quality of life at the institution they choose.

BWC's advice to help HBCUs strengthen their athletic programs and overall institutions is to build on the movement that Maker has put in play. BWC recommends that HBCUs work to increase their chances of attracting the best student-athletes by creating an aggressive recruitment strategy, attracting the best coaches and building a pipeline of younger student-athletes interested in the black college experience. The movement will require more alumni involvement and greater allocation of dollars to support leveraging these new funds to attract even greater capital to support new athletic infrastructure that will aid in the recruitment and retention of the best and brightest student-athletes. Once the young talent is secured, the path forward is clear, and the current model that benefits HWIs provides a reason to believe in the possibilities.

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Business, Education and Schools, Free News Articles

Part 1 of 4: COVID-19 and the Future of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- For over 15 years, Bridget Chisholm and her team at North Carolina-based black-owned economic development firm, Building Wealth & Communities (BWC) Consulting, LLC has had first-hand experience with providing high-level financial solutions to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

As seasoned professionals, the firm has helped to build financial strategies to ensure infrastructure improvements on black college campuses and access to capital for major projects in underserved communities to the tune of over $153 million in transactions for HBCUs alone. But now, as the coronavirus crisis and stay-at-home orders have inflicted financial damage on institutions of higher learning like existing debt obligations amid declining revenues, HBCUs are left to tackle long-term economic issues that threaten indefinite school closures and ultimately the elimination of as many as half of existing HBCUs.

The state and fate of these institutions certainly warrants attention, and the question is not whether we should support HBCUs, but how best to support them during this time of economic crisis.

In this four-part series, BWC Consulting will lay out the HBCU value proposition and highlight key opportunities for building a 21st century educational playbook for higher educational institutions that ensures proactive measures are in place to create more agile and resilient learning environments. These solutions will help HBCUs meet the needs of the changing educational landscape by reimagining the unique experience provided at HBCUs and remodeling business strategies, endowment programs and virtual learning opportunities that enhance the overall campus appeal and learning experience.

By exploring non-traditional approaches to capital campaigns and endowment growth, such as an increased focus on securing engagement and support from the largely white-led philanthropy sector, and restructuring the federally-funded HBCU Capital Financing Program, BWC hopes to empower college and university administrators and policymakers to correct historical economic and social injustices that persist in our nation to ensure equity in education and non-discriminatory access to opportunity.

"HBCUs provide immense value-add to society and contribute more to the overall [black] community than most colleges and universities because they offer an opportunity for students to learn in a culturally-enriched environment and in today's world, provide a safe and nurturing space," said Bridget Chisholm, the firm's founder and managing partner.

She adds, "We know how difficult it is for HBCUs to compete with historically white institutions on a level playing field in terms of availability and access to funding and fundamental educational resources like technology. The COVID-19 pandemic presents HBCUs with an opportunity and the motivation to revamp, and where it makes sense, replace antiquated business models with new business strategies designed to meet the needs of students better in an emerging 21st century higher education system. HBCUs have worked tirelessly for over a hundred years to produce black professionals in every field and we anticipate seeing them overcome the current challenges they face."

Unlike predominantly white institutions (PWIs), HBCUs have historically struggled to address issues that have plagued these institutions of higher learning for decades. Disparities that exist between HBCUs and PWIs include inadequate state and federal funding, smaller endowments, access to financial capital and resources that best serve their unique circumstances - not just funding for major campus infrastructure improvements - and a lack of resources to support students from underserved communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a high beam in the face of academic inequality, the lack of economic resiliency for communities of color and ineffective crisis management and contingency planning for the education system. Despite these discrepancies, HBCUs continue their mission to promote black excellence and nurture the growth, vitality, and upliftment of the black community. For many local municipalities across the country, HBCUs are a major economic engine for the surrounding community; thus, the impact of the coronavirus will have a lingering effect for many years ahead.

To read part one of the series and to review BWC Consulting's HBCU Post-Coronavirus Playbook, visit the website -

About BWC Consulting

BWC Consulting is a minority-owned and led boutique economic development finance consulting firm. As a socially conscious firm, BWC takes a holistic, objective, and entrepreneurial approach to consulting with units of local government, higher education clients, operating companies, and emerging enterprises. Started in 2005 by Bridget Chisholm, Founder and Managing Partner, BWC has proven itself and established a strong track record structuring public-private financing for projects targeted to strengthen communities and the people they serve. Learn more:

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PR Solutions LLC

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