In just a couple of decades, the system of college athletic recruitment has had a major facelift. It was once almost a cliche for recruiters to regularly visit low-income households and court the talented children of parents who never went to college. Today, recruiters appear to be more focused on athletes that can get into better high schools and AAU programs.
Tom Farrey of ESPN’s The Undefeated studied this trend in a piece entitled “The Gentrification of College Hoops.”
After obtaining data on NCAA athletes, Farrey found that the number of first generation athletes for Division-I programs had decreased in all but a couple of exceptions. In the case of Men’s basketball, the drop was as drastic as a third from 2010 to 2015. At one point, only 14.2 percent of NCAA athletes were first generation college students.
Why is this important? Well, this revelation shows that college sports aren’t being used to facilitate upward economic mobility the same way they used to.
There was once a day where a student’s athletic ability could be used to get them in the door of an institution they would otherwise never set foot on. Now, it appears recruiters are mostly pulling from middle-class black households or the few lower-class households that are able to send their children to better programs.
A prime example that Farrey used was Georgetown University, which was once known especially for recruiting players from humble beginnings, such as Allen Iverson, and giving them a chance to play and make something better of themselves. Today, the program is mostly known for moderate success and the recruitment of the sons of NBA legends who were born to wealth and privilege.
Perhaps a silver lining in all of this comes in the fact that the recruitment of first-generation athletes is actually on the incline with HBCUs and sat at 32.1 percent in 2015. This could possibly lead to more success in HBCU athletic programs, which could one day lead to higher enrollment and fundraising opportunities.