African-American men make up only 1.8 percent of the University of Texas’ student body – but they comprise 68 percent of the university’s basketball and football players.
That’s one of the findings in a University of Pennsylvania study [PDF], “Black Male Student-Athletes and Racial Inequities in NCAA Division I College Sports.”
The study finds that 43 percent of black male student athletes graduate from UT within six years. That compares to 62 percent of all student athletes, and 79 percent of all students.
In a comparison of universities where black male students are most over-represented in sports, UT ranks 14th out of 25.
Jody Conradt chairs the UT Athletics Diversity and Inclusion Council, founded in 2011. Prior to that, she coached UT women’s basketball for 31 years.
Conradt says the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Many athletes leave before gradation because their window to play professionally is short.
“Take for example Kevin Durant, who stayed at UT for one year,” Conradt says. “What people don’t realize is Kevin comes back over the summer and continues to work on his degree.”
Conradt says UT athletics directors recognize the high population of minority student athletes, and they make a strong effort to hire minorities as part of the administration.
“It’s important for student athletes to see people who look like them in those roles so they have those models to emulate and to aspire to be,” Conradt says.
Carrington Byndom is a fourth-year defensive back for UT's football team. Along with the question of minority overrepresentation in sports, he feels another type of pressure.
"People get that vibe that we’re only here because we’re playing sports, that we wouldn’t be here unless it were for sports," Byndom says. "For us, it’s trying to prove to people that we’re here to get our degree as well as do our job on the field."
From practices to team dinners, Byndom says football players spend most of their time socializing with each other due to their hectic schedules. When it comes to breaking stereotype about student athletes, he says it's up to the players to show the UT community who they are off the field.
That can include returning to complete a degree. Conradt says student athletes can return to UT at the expense of the athletics department with no time limit on completing their degree, as long as they're making progress.
Male student athletes don’t fit the six-year graduation plan, she notes: if they're offered the chance to play professionally, the benefits are hard to pass up.
“Even today in women’s basketball, the salaries are certainly not an enticement to forgo a four-year scholarship or a degree,” Conradt says. “If they were offered $15 million [contracts,] the story of women’s athletics would probably be very different as well.”