Threat of boycott steps out of bounds

January 15, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

The members of the Black Coaches Association were upset enough to contemplate a boycott because they feel the NCAA is denying opportunities to black students by limiting scholarships. Their behavior is misguided and self-serving.

Yesterday they delayed taking action. But if they truly were upset about the plight of black students being denied opportunity, they would put a permanent end to the threat of a boycott. They would think this thing through and realize that their stand is harmful, not helpful, to the vast majority of black youngsters.

The issue got hot Monday when the NCAA voted to retain the reduction in Division I scholarships -- voted on last year -- from 15 to 13. The coaches wanted 14. BCA attorney Dennis Coleman called the extra scholarships a chance "to save 330 young men." Many coaches lodged similarly emotional appeals. Because two-thirds of the Division I players are black, the coaches framed the issue racially.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

In the first place, there is no evidence that limiting scholarships limits black opportunity in particular. White players end up with the last scholarships as often as not. Check out who sits at the end of the bench.

The coaches don't need 14 scholarships, either. They don't even need 12 scholarships. How many players do they use? Ten, at the most.

They, and particularly the white coaches supporting them, are mostly angry that they've lost control of their game. In the past few years the NCAA presidents have limited the schedule, practice time, staff size and scholarship level of Division I basketball. The coaches have had enough. It's a control issue for a lot of them.

That is what makes the guise of moral superiority so off-putting. The coaches aren't concerned about a lack of opportunity for black students as much as they're concerned about themselves. If they were concerned about opportunity, they wouldn't be considering a boycott.

One of the most vicious myths in our society is that athletics is the best way to escape an underprivileged life. This is a lie that has ruined too many lives to count. For every kid who makes it to college and the pros playing ball, there are hundreds, thousands, who buy into the myth, disdain their classwork and wind up in trouble when they don't make it.

The coaches, supposedly leaders in the black community, are only perpetuating this horrible, injurious myth with the politics of their threatened boycott.

Their stand implies that an athletic scholarship is the only hope that the "330 young men" have for getting a college education. Take away their basketball scholarship, take away their opportunity. Classwork? Apparently, they can't "save" themselves with schoolwork.

L Way to go, guys. Way to send out the entirely wrong message.

Less than 1 percent of the black students in college are there on basketball scholarships. For the vast majority of underprivileged black children, education is the escape. This is as it should be. More black doctors, lawyers and businessmen are the only hope for stopping the cycle of poverty and despair.

If the coaches truly were concerned about saving lives, they would boycott until the money for the 14th scholarship was used for academic scholarships. At the very least, they would take the money from their shoe contracts and start a scholarship fund for top black students. They deserve an education more than some ballplayer. Yet many can't afford it.

But the coaches aren't complaining about that lack of opportunity. Just the opportunities denied those who can play ball. Those who can help coaches win.

Sure, the situation is difficult. It's a shame to turn down any youngster who is positively directed, as are many basketball prospects. But far more will end up getting hurt because of the continuing over-emphasis of athletics.

It has to stop somewhere.

The coaches aren't ogres. Most have genuine concern for their players. They aren't wrong to suggest that the money should be saved somewhere other than on people. They want to help. But they just don't get it. In their rush to build their little empires, they manage to ignore the bigger picture.

Remember when they claimed that the tightened standards of Proposition 48 would similarly deny opportunity? Well, it turns out that Prop 48 kids graduate at a rate similar to regular athletes. There's no evidence that anyone is harmed -- except the coaches, who have to work harder to find players.

The coaches are missing the point. Yet such is their power that they can threaten a boycott and get the attention of Congress.

Enough already. Stop the madness.

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