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Knight Commission Task Force Examines Racial Equity In College Sports

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

College athletes generate huge amounts of money when they play for their schools. Most of that revenue comes from two sports, football and men's basketball. There has been, though, a persistent gap in graduation rates for Black and white college athletes. Organizations like the NCAA and college athletic departments across the country are trying to address this and other disparities.

Shanteona Keys is the co-vice chair of the Knight Commission's task force on racial equity and a former basketball player at Georgia College. She helped author a new report out today about racial equity for college students, and she joins us on Skype. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

SHANTEONA KEYS: Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: So I noted you were a college athlete yourself. Can you just give us a picture of the inequities that you saw personally?

KEYS: Yeah. Well, for me personally, you know, lack of Black coaches in the game and, even more specifically, maybe not in my experience, but just overall, there is a lack of - there's a gap in the graduation rates. More than one-fifth of the teams in the 2021 men's tournament - there's about a 30-percentage-point-or-greater gap between the Black graduation rates of players and then that of white players. And so that's a huge problem that we've got to address.

And as you mentioned, the lack of diverse staffing - in 2015, there were 10% of FBS coaches who were Black and 48% for players, same - 26 for head coaches in men's basketball, and then 57 for players. So there has to be an investment in diversifying our leadership across DI schools and then fostering a pipeline of opportunities for coaching and administrators for Black candidates.

MARTIN: Those are some of the recommendations you lay out in this report, and I want to get to more of that, but first, the causes. I mean, when you think about such a big gap in graduation rates between Black and white college athletes - did your study look at root causes? Why is that happening?

KEYS: Yeah. I mean, I think there's a lack of belonging that happens when Black student athletes come to campus, lack of preparation in some of their - in the schooling that happens prior to. But there needs to be a better look at how players are experiencing on predominantly white campuses. And so that hinders their development as they are at an institution and within the athletic department.

MARTIN: So can you tick off some of the most concrete recommendations that you and the rest of the task force have put together to try to narrow this gap?

KEYS: Yes, absolutely. We talk about hiring. Again, we want to foster pipelines for student athletes. We talk about having an alumni network of your faculty and, again, your Black alumni at your institution that can help mentor these student athletes. We talk about investing in the funding for summer bridge programs to help that transition and have that better belonging, as we mentioned. We have a call for the CFP to direct more funds to this effort of hiring. Despite generating 500 million annually, the CFP directs zero dollars in revenue to support national initiatives.

MARTIN: The CFP being?

KEYS: The College Football Playoff, yes, a big player as it pertains to college football.

MARTIN: So just in a matter of seconds, Shanteona, are universities likely to put these recommendations into place? Is there an appetite to make change?

KEYS: Yes, absolutely, but I do think we need to hold these institutions to the fire because a lot of them have had these ideas floating in the air for a long time. So we just don't need them to get stuck in processes. And my commission's going to be offering a $100,000 grant to continue to research these things.

MARTIN: OK, we'll leave it there. Shanteona Keys, a co-vice chair of the Knight Commission's task force on racial equity, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

KEYS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.