The Grambling State football team refusing to play against Jackson State Saturday exposed the unsightly scars, warts and abrasions that had been guarded for so long by the university, state governments and those who allegedly support intercollegiate athletics.

A group of radical young men uncovered the disparity that still exists in funding for historically black colleges and universities.  Teenagers, who are only valued by the fruits of their labor on football fields, revealed to America how infighting among adults can jeopardize a once-storied program.


Sophomore defensive back Dwight Amphy and his black and gold clad brothers were able to pry open the unadulterated, raw feelings of a public that expresses more of an allegiance to what a school symbolizes to them than the people who fill it.

“Like we keep stressing its DEEPER than football wins or losses even facilities that’s a SMALLER scale of things,” wrote Anthony McGhee via Twitter.

According to various media reports, the football team has been disenchanted with poor training and workout facilities, extremely long bus rides and the firing of head coach Doug Williams.

Other accounts paint a picture of a school that has been in dire a financial situation over the  years, highlighted by state funding cuts that have negatively impacted athletics and academics.

Like some of the 107 HBCUs, Grambling finds itself fighting financial battles at every turn. The systematic struggles that black colleges have traditionally faced caught the attention of the Obama administration to the tune of several billion its coffers since 2008.

But in recent months, that federal government assistance has wavered, as an estimated 28,000 students attending HBCUs were denied Parent Plus loans last fall resulting in a loss of $150 million to schools.

Hampton lost $6 million due to Parent Plus losses. Howard took a $7 million hit and Spelman suffered a $2 million departure.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a public apology to the leaders of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for the Obama administration’s decision to change the criteria of the popular Parent PLUS Loan program without consulting with them first.

The problem, Duncan said, is that new funding had been stalled by the Republicans in Congress. The same group who led a boycott of the government for 16 days.

Some administrators at HBCUs expressed concern about a new initiative Obama announced, charging the Education Department with developing a college rating system for the start of the 2015 school year. Under the plan, the college rating system would be used to transform the way federal student aid is awarded to students, starting in 2018.

Many fear the ratings system with rely heavily on graduate rates ; something that HBCUs struggle with.

However, University of Pennsylvania education policy professor Marybeth Gasman said schools and students face a tw0-fold problem.

“[What HBCUs] have at their core is a dedication to low-income students,” she told NPR. “That makes it harder to have higher graduation rates” — HBCUs students face financial pressures outside of college and so they have narrower margins of error. “If you’re doing that kind of work, you’re dealing with low-income students, you’re tuition-driven, your alumni are not making enormous salaries and you’re dealing with racism, it’s a difficult situation.”

Latest census data indicated that whites had more than 20 times the wealth of blacks at last count. And considering that HBCU students graduate with a significant amount of debt compared to their predominately white college peers, it creates financial  hell for these smaller schools.

The other sobering reality, Gasman said, is ever-present racism that exist at the state level and among higher education leaders who are responsible for financial decisions that impact schools like Grambling.

The Gramblings of the world still do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to educating black people.

One in five African-American college grads earned their degree at an HBCU, and black schools help graduate about 90 percent of students who acquired degrees in STEM, education and law.

Against near insurmountable odds, black colleges have historically done great work in developing groups of people who otherwise would not have been given an opportunity to succeed and eventually contribute to society.  If HBCUs are restricted from carrying out that mission, then America will be at a crossroads.

Read a letter the Grambling football team wrote to school administrators here

About The Author

Kendrick Marshall

Editor for HBCU Sports, award-winning journalist, and a graduate of Jackson State University.

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