Although it is possible to get a college degree and still remain on the black side of the gulf, it is more common for the Negro athlete simply to fail to graduate. Colleges draw the line at giving their black athletes undeserved diplomas. So long as the Negro athlete has any eligibility left, he somehow hangs on in school. But after the last game his friendly advisor will call him in and remind him that he lacks too many required courses to graduate. Of course, he can return next year—at his own expense.
The statistics are depressing. For example, at the University of Washington between 1957 and 1967 seven Negro football players graduated, 13 did not. At the University of Oregon in the last three years, six Negro athletes graduated, five did not. Of 46 Negro athletes at the University of Utah, only one finished school in the normal four-year span, and only 11 others eventually got a degree. Utah State has graduated nine of 40 Negro athletes, five of them as four-year students. (In every instance at both Utah schools the ones who returned for degrees were professional football players.) Wyoming officials report they graduate less than 20%. Since 1960 California at Berkeley has graduated seven of 12 football players. Minnesota graduated four of nine Negro athletes in 1966 and 1967 and Michigan State eight of 14 football players in a three-year span. So it goes.
The University of Kansas is one of the rare institutions that suddenly has begun to develop some pride in the academic records of its Negro athletes—intensive and sincere efforts are now being made to help some of them—but it was only yesterday that Wilt Chamberlain and Wayne Hightower and Gale Sayers and Walt Wesley were dancing their little dance at KU and then moving on, very little the wiser for the experience. None graduated. There were four senior Negroes on Loyola of Chicago's varsity basketball team this season; none graduated with his class.
Two years ago the all-black starters of Texas at El Paso defeated the all-white team of the University of Kentucky for the NCAA basketball championship, and the nationally televised game brought cries of joy to black militants and white liberals alike. If they had scratched a millimeter below the surface they would have realized that the victory was shallow. Of the five white players who started the game for Kentucky, five graduated. Of the five black players who started for UT at El Paso, none have graduated. Nor have the other two Negroes who were sitting on the Texas at El Paso bench. But they were not attending college for that purpose. They were there as black hired hands to bring a national championship to the little-known school, and the matter of their education ranked a distant second. A couple of them are still hanging around El Paso playing in pickup basketball games and making a buck.
"They don't get an education because their primary purpose is to compete," Harry Edwards says of Negro college athletes. "Their primary responsibility is to the athletic department, and at the end of four years they wind up with no degree, no job, and no references."
Tex Winter of Kansas State is one of the few white coaches willing to approach the subject with any degree of candor, and Winter does not like what he sees. "In basketball, we're getting ourselves into a situation where outstanding Negroes with talent are being exploited. We go out and look for the exceptional Negro basketball player, and without regard to his background, education, intelligence, morals and character we bring him into a white college environment with one purpose in mind—to get what we can out of him as a basketball player. The question now has become: Can you build a winning team without that kind of recruiting?"
"If we're going to recruit deprived Negroes and exploit them in sports, then we've got to give them the special educational treatment they require," says John Novotny. "If we don't want to give them special attention, we'd better stop recruiting them."
Some few coaches are beginning to understand that the Negro athlete can no longer be drilled in the rudiments of the fast break and then nudged toward the classroom without any further assistance. "Every coach who recruits a young man has responsibilities to that player from the moment he steps on campus," says Jim Padgett, the enlightened new head basketball coach at the trouble-torn University of California. "It's a huge step for the Negro athlete coming from a small town or a slum to a university. Those problems are the responsibility of the coach who brings him there."
Atlanta Falcon Back Junior Coffey says about his playing days at the University of Washington: "That was the big lack, the big problem. Coach [Jim] Owens seemed to feel that just because you're a Negro he shouldn't give you that extra hand. But that's wrong. A Negro in college is facing a big challenge, and he sometimes gets confused and needs guidance that the whites don't need. The whites have businessmen, lawyers, doctors and other whites to turn to. We scarcely have anybody."
And what of the star Negro athlete who simply lacks the qualifications and the intellect for college level work, who cannot make it at the white university no matter how many John Novotnys are willing to work with him and Jim Padgetts willing to counsel him? Does he quietly seek other honorable lines of work? No, he doesn't, and won't. There is always a place for a Negro athlete who can bring a college fame. As a Big Ten basketball coach says: "Things are now getting to the point where all a coach has to do is go out and pick up four or five good Negro players and let things take their natural course. In order to succeed—which means to win—coaches are being forced to resort to what I would bluntly call nothing else but the slave trade."