Sports are a very integral part of college culture. But at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in particular, sports often provide disadvantaged students a rare chance to showcase their talent and become well-rounded. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has created rules ensuring that students are more than just athletes, but also do well in school. However, a new lawsuit highlights that the mission of HBCUs in general is clashing with the NCAA’s academic standards.

According to NPR, a new class action civil lawsuit has been filed in the Federal District Court, demanding that the NCAA’s current system, called the Academic Performance Program (APP), be dissolved. The program requires teams to hit specific academic benchmarks, or they will be penalized. The benchmarks are based on things like team member grades, whether they are preparing to graduate or stay in school. If they do not meet the benchmark, which is set by the Academic Progress Rate (APR) metric, the teams can have their practice times cut short, be banned from playing postseason, and other punishments.

Attorney Beth Fegan best simplified the core issue of this legal action, emphasizing that because HBCUs have made it their mission to enroll low income, first generation and at-risk students, which automatically puts them at a disadvantage with these benchmarks.

“And so HBCUs are already starting at lower graduation success rates, lower academic progress rates,” Fegan said, “and yet they’re being held to the same benchmarks as predominantly white institutions who don’t have the mission [HBCUs do]. The NCAA should be supporting the mission of HBCUs, not penalizing them for it.”

The effects of the NCAA standards are not only staggering for HBCUs, but skewed towards them.

“While only six and a half percent of Division 1 schools are HBCUs,” she said, “Seventy-two percent of the teams that’ve been banned from post-season competition are HBCUs. So in effect, 114 of 159 teams are HBCU teams that’ve been banned.”

The NCAA has not yet responded, but it is the hope of the athletes in the class-action lawsuit that the metrics are changed so that HBCUs can do the work they were established to do without repercussions.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the NCAA has acknowledged that the academic rules and penalties disadvantage HBCUs disproportionately even dating back to 2011.

“We want to help them develop plans for improvement,” Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s president at the time was quoted as saying. “But, clearly, some of these institutions have a different scope and mission, and we need to be cognizant of that as we try to help…. We have a special obligation to work with HBCUs.”

NPR stressed that the NCAA has provided additional funds to HBCUs to assist with academic support for athletes. But of course, that move has been criticized because it is no comparison to the amount that larger predominantly white schools are spending for the same thing.

We will have to stay tuned on the outcome of the lawsuit, and whether the APP will be ended, giving relief and justice to HBCUs and their determined student-athletes.