MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas, in a commentary posted by The Undefeated, writes an impassioned plea to those with HBCU associations to progress their institutions. Here is an excerpt.


There is no sugarcoating the state of HBCUs: Our institutions are hurting. Nationwide, state funding continues to decline, and our athletic programs are under tremendous financial strain to balance their budgets.


I know most HBCUs have strong alumni support. I see them at games and hear from them throughout the year. They are vocal and full of pride. I applaud this. But our institutions need more than a vocal and proud alumni base to survive, they need consistent financial support. If you venture to an institution’s development office and ask for a list of alumni who have given $1,000 or more, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than 5,000 alumni who have done so. That’s hard to hear, but it’s fact. Despite the lack of donors at that level, our alumni – the same ones who are proud and love their schools – are prone to criticize, even though they have not earned the right to do so. Which is why I have accepted the opportunity by The Undefeated to set the record straight – and to educate.

Let me be clear: We need more alumni to be financially active at their respective institutions. I certainly don’t mean to lump all alumni in the same bucket. I know we have thousands of alumni nationwide who consistently support the affairs of their alma mater. But we have a small number carrying the larger load, and frankly, it’s gotten too heavy for the faithful few to carry.

We need to debunk the misconception that our institutions are self-supporting. Only 24 of 230 NCAA Division I public institutions meet the NCAA’s benchmark for self-sufficiency. By NCAA definition, self-sufficiency means an athletic department’s generated operating revenues — not counting money from student fees, university funding or direct government support — are at least equal to its total operating expenses, which is legalese for taking in more money than you spend.

It seems that our HBCU institutions’ boards of trustees, state legislators and elected officials continue to reduce the financial support of our institutions which, by all existing data, were underfunded for over a century. If our institutions were underfunded for over a century and the state keeps reducing funding, it looks like we are in a state of fait accompli.

Through the years, we have had individuals drafted, not only as No. 1 draft picks, but as top overall choices, particularly in the NFL. So to say that the level of competition prevents our student-athletes from making it to the NFL or NBA is simply not true.

I would need a whole separate commentary to list the names of former HBCU student-athletes who have achieved greatness – Hall of Fame status, even – at the professional level. We’re proud of that, and we’re not just talking about a bygone era. We hear the argument all the time: Athletes need to go to a larger institution, or a majority institution, to get exposed to the higher level of coaching and facilities. I submit to you, if you have the ability and can play, it doesn’t make any difference where you come from. That’s been proven. That’s not up for debate or argument. So, you can take that argument off the table. With these Taj Mahal facilities, the bottom line is: If you can’t play, those facilities are not going to help you be a player.

How many times do you hear stories of talented players at the larger institutions not panning out? Countless. Yet, they played at the highest level. HBCUs have had lower draft choices who’ve made it. We’ve had higher draft choices who’ve made it. We’ve had undrafted choices who’ve made it. History has shown that the minute someone says, “This is a top-flight talent,” it is assumed that the student-athlete has to go to a Power Five conference. They don’t think HBCUs can provide those opportunities, unfortunately. I vehemently and respectfully disagree with that notion.

I look to the past to have confidence in the future. If you would go back and ask all of the great coaches down through the years, in basketball, football and other sports at HBCUs, they’d tell you they never had enough to be successful. But they didn’t make excuses for why they could not be successful. They went about the business of taking what they had and succeeding with it. The great John McLendon coached basketball at many HBCUs. Edward Temple, the head women’s track coach at Tennessee State, didn’t have all the facilities he needed to have a world-class track program but still developed a world-class women’s track program. Everybody knows what Eddie Robinson did at Grambling State; his program sent many players to the NFL during the 1970s. John Merritt, from Tennessee State, Willie Jeffries, from South Carolina State, Earl Banks, from Morgan State … all of these individuals didn’t have all the facilities but they didn’t make excuses, and they got results. Why do I give that brief history lesson? The point is this: We have been doing more with less all of our lives. That’s in our DNA. 

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