Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Forces of Habit

Recently ESPN’s Jeff Perlman wrote a piece on the University of Delaware’s reluctance, refusal, awkward excuses, and non-responses to play Delaware State University

Perlman’s piece regards the incident as purely regarding race. However, the situation may be even more nuanced than Perlman lets on.

The school came to be in 1891 only because the men running the First State wished not to allow blacks into their grand university. Under the Morrill Act, a state either could open its public educational facilities to all peoples, or start a separate-but-equal school for blacks. Hence, Delaware State.

In the ensuing 116 years, Delaware has treated Delaware State not as academic/athletic brethren, but as a piece of gum affixed to the bottom of its loafer. Del. State is where the scary black people congregate, where "those" types of folk go to college.

The problem is UD v. Del State is more socio-economic than it probably is racial anymore. Yet, so many tragedies like this start out as misguided racial solutions (starting Del State in order for UD to remain an all white institution) only to become these habitual stances on how one regards another race and its institutions.

Moreover, a large part of UD’s 6% black student body is separated by the income gap from whites and blacks. To the point, Del State’s tuition rates are far less than the University of Delaware’s. So, unless we decide to subsidize more blacks to go to college, the numbers will stay the same. Situations like these are most evidently the reason why economists continue to study the black-white achievement gap with fervor.

Perlman’s article is wasted on football. Luckily for him, that is why he writes for ESPN. The bigger issue is the admissions department of the University of Delaware. Why is higher education only for some blacks, yet most whites? What are the separating factors? Surely couldn’t the University of Delaware release some of its decision making critiques?

Other questions that I have pondered before, but Perlman did not raise himself are: If the University of Delaware’s student body is only 6% black, how many students is that actually (keeping in mind Delaware State’s student body is smaller)? How many of those students are in-state students? And consequently, the same questions can be asked for Delaware State University. Since in-state students pay less, it is quite possible that the income disadvantage minorities face makes them less apt to attend the University of Delaware, especially when other schools may be financially equal, and with a better educational reputation.

If we want to argue about racism, fine, but maybe we should really be honest about what college football is about. Along the way, some of us have to stick to our principles, and I hope that at some point in the future, it won’t only be George Will. The white – black achievement gap is bigger than football because this involves the futures of many young students. If Perlman really wanted to focus on something in football that should be changed, what about the goals of the NCAA as George Will has discussed before?

How does the NCAA fulfill its proclaimed purpose of maintaining "the athlete as an integral part of the student body"? Only 55 percent of football players and 38 percent of basketball players at Division I-A schools graduate. The New York Times has reported that at Auburn, a perennial football power, many athletes have received "high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work." Eighteen members of the undefeated 2004 team took a combined 97 hours of those courses while at Auburn. Who believes such behavior is confined to Auburn?

My point is that the fate of Pearlman’s article was sealed before it was written. So much of what separates schools is in the price tag, and until we effectively reduce the black-white achievement gap, we will continue to bear witness to the University of Delaware’s racial composition and surreal attitude of playing Delaware State University as a…how did they say it back in the day…a peculiar institution.
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