Frequently Asked Questions

While exciting, we understand that the Historical Basketball League is a completely new and revolutionary idea. You probably have a lot of questions. We’ve put together a Frequently Asked Questions page with questions we’ve gotten as the idea has gone viral.

Don’t see your question here? Email Kevin Trahan (kevintrahan93@gmail.com) and we will get it answered.

Why HBCUs?

First and foremost, the broad mission of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is the socio-economic uplift of African Americans through higher education, with the goal of helping the community share fully in fruits of being American. College sports is an industry in which the normal rules of American economics have been suspended. Instead of the normal system in which hard work and talent provide firms and individuals with the lion’s share of profits, in this one instance, athletes are prohibited from earning more than a capped amount, and the HBCUs themselves are doled out a very limited amount of the the NCAA’s largesse on the basis of NCAA’s metrics that skew funding towards predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

Conference NCAA Distributions
SWAC 9,252,477
SEC 40,023,569

(Note, the NCAA has nothing to do with FBS football revenues, so this is a purely basketball-driven revenue pool.  Football revenues skew even more dramatically toward the SEC)

Meanwhile, schools with bigger budgets used their economic heft to recruit the best athletes, a group that is far more African American than the schools that seek out their services. The NCAA’s amateurism rules prevent the normal workings of the market from ensuring those athletes get a competitive share of the revenue they generate. The result is that while NBA athletes receive approximately half of all NBA revenue and the vast majority of overall sponsorship revenue, college athletes receive something on the order of 5-10% of the revenue they generate, and have zero access to sponsorship dollars. Even if the original goals of amateurism were unrelated to economic redistribution, in today’s American the effect of caps on college athletes, while all others on campus from librarians to head coaches are allowed full and free access to the marketplace, results in a massive transfer of wealth from talented black teenagers to mostly white administrators, coaches, and even to the shareholders of constructions firms that upgrade PWI campus facilities while HBCUs’ facilities continue to depreciate.

For example, 69% of Duke’s scholarship men’s basketball players last year were black, while the athletic director and all five of his deputies are white. The athletic department employees as a whole are overwhelmingly white, with 4 African Americans on a Senior Staff of 23 employees.

The Historical Basketball League (HBL) will be an opportunity for HBCUs to reassert a pre-eminent role within an industry built on the popularity of young, African American men, and to push their fellow PWI within the NCAA to recognize that, intentional or not, “amateurism” has resulted in a regressive economic redistribution system, away from poorer communities of color to wealthier and whiter organizations and individuals. It’s also an opportunity for the best college athletes in America, who come out of the primarily black population the HBCUs serve, to more fully participate in the American economic system by receiving a market-rate of return on their valuable skills—the same economic opportunity that almost all other Americans benefit from.

Which schools are you targeting?

The HBL will target schools in the four conferences that contain the majority of HBCU athletic teams: the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) of NCAA Division I, and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (CIAA) and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) of Division II.

These schools include, but are not limited to: Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Grambling State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Southern, Texas Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Bethune-Cookman, Coppin State, Delaware State, Florida A&M, Hampton, Howard, Morgan State, Norfolk State, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, Savannah State, South Carolina State, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Bowie State, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, Johnson C. Smith, Lincoln, Livingstone, Saint Augustine’s, Shaw, Virginia State, Virginia Union, Winston-Salem State, Albany State, Benedict, Central State, Claflin, Clark Atlanta, Fort Valley State, Kentucky State, Lane, LeMoyne-Owen, Miles, Morehouse, Paine and Tuskegee.

What is the revenue source?

Initially, the league will be funded through an up-front venture capital investment, tailored to provide working capital for two years of league operations, including athletes salaries, supplemental compensation for coaches, a (very lean) League staff, and travel. After having provided a fair-rate of return to the initial investor, the HBL will then fund itself through sponsorships and media rights contracts, as other sports leagues do, with athletes and schools receiving the full benefits of the HBL’s ongoing revenue generation ability.

What is the initial salary for athletes?

We recognize that for a future NBA star considering colleges, the easy path would be to choose an established PWI powerhouse like Duke or Kentucky. These schools offer many advantages. However, we believe the full HBCU experience will also appeal to young men with top-tier college basketball talent, on top of which we plan to offer direct and indirect compensation valued in six (or potential seven) figures.

All athletes in the HBL will receive Full Cost of Attendance scholarships from their universities. This process will be no different than today, although many HBCU have found it difficult to keep up with the PWI move towards providing Full COA. On top of this, each athlete on an HBL team will become an employee of the HBL and receive a salary between $50,000 and $100,000 per year. While the exact salary has yet to be determined, it will be targeted at the price that can be used to lure top athletes who would otherwise sign with an NCAA team.

On top of this, athletes will also be free to sign marketing/sponsorship deals with shoe/apparel firms, local business, etc., as any other athlete in America can (other than those under amateurism rules). In addition, the HBL will develop a group licensing pool from endorsements featuring more than one or two athletes, with HBCUs and athletes splitting the surplus, and athletes across the HBL receiving equal shares of their athletes’ pool.

As explained above, on top of these league-paid salaries and third-party endorsements, athletes will receive a standard full scholarship from their schools. The two arrangements will essentially be separate—the student will get a scholarship to fund his education; the athlete will get a salary and business opportunities to better himself.

How can HBCUs afford this?

The goal is to ensure, from Day 1, that HBCUs are net beneficiaries of the HBL. They should not see any additional costs and will, hopefully within the first year, begin to see revenue benefits. HBCUs will not be paying players, as the league will be responsible for funding their salaries. The league will be structured like Major League Soccer, in which the players are employees of the league and in which team “owners”—in this case, the HBCUs themselves—are shareholders in the league. Once the HBL begins to turn a profit, HBCUs will then share equally in the profit pool, much as power five schools do today. Moreover, the national exposure would broaden donor interest and the pool of interested applicants, leading to what economists sometimes call the “Flutie Effect.”

Is the league providing scholarships? If so, isn’t that still a major cost?

The schools will still provide scholarships, as they do today, although it is the HBL’s intent that these be funded to the full cost of attendance rather than just the old-style “full ride” that fell short of the true costs of attending college. It is our intent that the current athlete-to-institution relationship remain essentially unchanged, with schools enforcing the same academic standards imposed on all students.

The employment relationship will be between the HBL and each athlete, and thus the HBL will be paying athletes a salary, providing benefits like a 401K, etc. As we understand the current tax code, because nothing in the athlete/school relationship will have changed, the IRS’s treatment of athletes scholarships (current untaxed) would remain the same. In contrast, like all salaries, athletes’ pay from the HBL will be subject to payroll taxes, FICA withholding, etc. But as anyone who has receive an annual salary can attest, the post-tax take-home pay of a $50,000+ job is far better than being “spared” the burden of taxation by being denied a salary.

It is also worth noting that if a school is below its enrollment targets, and especially if the school has excess dormitory capacity, the list-price of an athletic scholarship far overstates the actual “cost” to the schools providing them.

Why was basketball selected for this?

Basketball is one of the two major revenue producing college sports, and it requires less overhead than football. Moreover, basketball is much more driven by individual personalities than football is. That means the league’s money can go further in attracting basketball players, and basketball players are easier to brand.

In addition, marketing studies show that the potential basketball audience is a more diverse and younger group, and is likely more receptive to an ending of the “amateur” regime. In time, it is the HBL’s hope to launch a football league, as well. Beyond that, we would hope to enter any sport in which the market price for athletes’ services exceeds the “amateur” restrictions, enough to create a business case for market disruption.

How would HBCUs avoid NCAA retribution with other sports?

The NCAA only governs varsity athletic teams with sports that fall under the NCAA’s umbrella. The NCAA does not control teams outside of the varsity athletics umbrella—for example, a non-scholarship club sports athlete or even a scholarship eSports athlete can receive any extra benefits that they want, even if those benefits are not allowed by the NCAA.

Our league would operate outside of the varsity athletics system. As we understand NCAA rules, schools are not individually required to maintain a men’s basketball team, but conferences are. Thus, schools may choose to remain full members of the NCAA even while joining the HBL. To the extent the schools wish to sponsor two men’s basketball programs, operating an NCAA varsity program in addition to the HBL team, it may be possible for the HBCUs to get the best of both worlds, receiving their current (low but non-zero) level of NCAA funding for their existing athletics, but also sponsoring a more elite club-level of competition to super-charge the schools’ revenues and reputations.

How would faculty and campus staff feel if the basketball players earn more than they?

Many students already have access to more money than faculty and campus staff (such as those with rich families or actors who earn millions as teens and then enter college), and even current professional players go back to school and are integrated just fine into the academic environment. As the fundamental premise of the HBL is that no one should be denied his/her market rate of compensation simply because others think it’s excessive, we would not want to place restrictions on our athletes simply because some feel a lower amount is “enough.” Until corporate CEOs and Power 5 conference commissioners are paid based on the “enough” standard, we will continue to push for all HBL participants to earn their full market value.

Wouldn’t existing NCAA schools blackball the HBCUs for all endeavors?

As noted above, the league would be set up outside of the NCAA structure and the NCAA would have no jurisdiction over it. Our athletes would not be part of the varsity athletics department. We believe that the NCAA would be in legal jeopardy if it chose to target HBCUs for punitive action simply because its members disliked the fact that non-NCAA athletes who attend HBCUs have side jobs.

How can this plan benefit all of the players on the team?

Players will benefit from having the money to support themselves and their families, which is often not the case for even some of the biggest stars in the NCAA. Moreover, athletes will receive national exposure that the typical HBCU athlete never could have received in the past.

Outside of basketball, athletes will be able to pursue business opportunities that the NCAA would typically ban them from having, which will help them learn about the business world, both in and out of sports. This will help even marginal players.

Is the league only going after African-American players?

No, just like other HBCU sports teams, we will recruit the best players, regardless of race. HBCUs differ widely in their proportion of their undergraduates who are African American — some exceed 90%, others are under 70%, and for at least one HBCU, non-black students currently form the majority. We would expect our competitive salary structure to prove a compelling proposition for any athlete who values the unique combination of an HBCU education, high-quality basketball, and access to market-rate compensation.

What about Title IX and women’s sports?

Title IX governs (among other things) equitable financial aid, so since financial aid (athletic scholarship amounts) would be unchanged, we do not believe that Title IX would not apply to athletes’ outside salaries or promotional income. This is the case currently for coaches salaries, which are not held to a proportionality standard by gender. However, the HBL has already sent an inquiry to the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education to receive clarification as to how they would interpret the question of whether third-party salaries constitute “financial aid” for the purposes of Title IX’s proportionality rule. If it does, the HBL will direct any surplus, prior to distribution of profits, to schools to cover the increased Title IX matching caused by the increase in male athlete (third-party) compensation. If this occurs, we believe the funding would constitute a substantial increase—with equitable amounts of money going to both men and women—than women will see increased athletic opportunities.

Even if the Department of Education determines that the salaries provided to men’s basketball players are not part of the Title IX proportionality rule, athletes in women’s sports and other men’s sports will benefit from the increased amount of money coming into the university, which can help pay for better benefits, improved facilities, and provide a more stable athletic environment at these (currently) cash-strapped programs.

What about postseason play and the NCAA Tournament?

The SWAC and MEAC never get more than one team apiece into the NCAA Tournament, and very rarely does one of their teams advance beyond the Round of 64 (and even less frequently out of the first weekend). The league will put together a much more exciting postseason, which features more HBCUs and provides better postseason opportunities.

To the extent the HBCUs choose to continue fielding a men’s varsity team in addition to a club team, their position within the NCAA’s hierarchy would continue, with each conference receiving a single bid and schools receiving something around $1 million per year as their share of the NCAA’s billion-dollar television deal.

Could players sign endorsement contracts?

Yes, and we encourage it. In exchange for their salary, HBL athletes will give the HBL their group licensing rights (generally, any licensing involving three or more athletes) and a portion of that licensing money will fund a group licensing pool in which all HBCU team members will share equally. On top of that, athletes with star potential will be encouraged to sign national or local endorsement deals with any legitimate business, ranging from major apparel manufacturers to local restaurants.

Anything licensing deal a coach can do in today’s NCAA, we expect our athletes to seek out within the HBL.

Will there be agents?

Players will be free to sign with agents, who can help them negotiate better endorsement deals, negotiate with the schools and the league and help them as they transition into post-college life. The HBL will encourage all athletes, even those without agents, to work with a certified financial advisor to ensure their earnings are well-managed.

If the athlete earns $50-$100K without financial planning and life skills, isn’t that a recipe for failure?

The HBCU league will encourage players to sign with agents, meet with financial planners and use these professionals to help them weed out good and bad advice. The best way to learn how to manage money is to have money to manage. In our experience, all young people can use more hands-on training with money, but denying athletes their first “real” paycheck isn’t a solution to that need. Rather it simply defers the athletes’ personal growth.

Will there be a union?

If the athletes choose to unionize, the league will happily recognize it. Until then, we hope to structure our compensation system and athletes rules in a way that such a union would agree is equitable. Collective bargaining is a great way to determine salaries, benefits, league structure and more. Since athletes will be league employees, not school employees, there will be no issue related to jurisdiction — all athletes will be employees of a private firm subject to national labor law. A union of league employees will keep all issues streamlined and centralized.

As the NBA will tell you, life with the NBPA may be tricky at times, but they much prefer the status quo to a market without a union partner. (In fact, in the last decade both the NFL and the NBA have taken legal action to REQUIRE athletes to remain unionized.)

What happens to the money beyond player payments (campus, athletic staff, physical plant, sports facility maintenance)?

League representatives and management can take care of many of the issues that athletic department staff currently take care of. It is unlikely schools would need to hire many additional employees to keep up with extra tasks. However, if a financial windfall put schools in a position to hire more staff, and non-athletic campus needs didn’t take priority, this would give the athletic department more opportunities for growth.

Have you spoken with any of the leaders from the universities?

We have spoken with many people involved with HBCUs, including current students, faculty, and alumni, though we have not yet officially proposed the idea to schools. It is our hope to have some of the other partners lined up before making a formal pitch to the schools, but we will be presenting the idea in early August at the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) Presidential Peer Summit in Florida. This will be an opportunity for the HBL leaders to get constructive feedback and tailor our offering to meet the needs of the HBCU leadership community

What if other NCAA schools decide to compete and pay their players?

It would likely take at least some time for the NCAA to change its rules regarding amateurism, so the HBL would already have a head start in building name and brand recognition with young basketball stars. Our league would already have a substantial leg up on the competition.

As it stand, the NCAA has taken the public position that the essence of the sports product it sells is “amateurism” itself, and that the idea that college athlete should not earn their full worth is a “bedrock principle” of the NCAA. If the association were to abandon this claim on first contact with a competitor, we believe this would itself be a victory for the truth. So, even if the richest schools started paying players, we would have accomplished one of our goals: ending a discriminatory system and replacing it with one in which those with desirable skills are able to earn their worth without being carved out for less favorable treatment.

What are the eligibility rules? Would the athletes have to sign four year contracts and remain in school?

The eligibility stipulations are that athletes will have to be enrolled as full-time students in the school for which they play and cannot have already played in the NBA or another major professional basketball league. However, a player could be drafted into the NBA (or even under contract to an NBA team) and continue to study at his HBCU and play in the HBL.

The exact contract structure has yet to be determined and would likely be constructed during collective bargaining (or by the HBL with an eye to protecting athletes rights). However, it’s likely that players would be able to transfer between schools during their time in school.

What is the academic benefit to the schools?

HBCUs could potentially see the Flutie Effect, in which a greater awareness of the schools’ existence, through increased exposure, could boost the applicant pool. Also, the financial windfall can allow the schools, which have seen budget cuts from state governments, to invest more money in academics.

Would there be a draft?

At least initially, players will be recruited by schools and the league, just like they are by current college programs. Additional recruiting rules can be determined by collective bargaining.

Why would fans watch those game when they can watch blue chippers play for Power 5 schools?

HBCUs had massive fan bases before primarily white colleges with bigger budgets started recruiting the best African-American players. With a fun product available to national audiences, those bases can be rebuilt. Non-alumni will adopt teams, much like Americans adopt European soccer teams. In the 1980’s, many young fans followed Georgetown men’s basketball under the assumption it was an HBCU. Some even purchased university jackets and sweatshirts.

The league’s plan is to attract blue chip players with its salaries, so many of the best players in the country could play for HBCUs, rather than for traditional powers. We believe our package of high quality educational opportunity, superior compensation, and freedom to engage in third-party endorsement will prove attractive to athletes planning to spend one year in school, as well as those with plans to play 2-5 years.

When would the first season be?

That has yet to be determined. However, we are aiming for a summer league to start June 2018 or 2019, right after the final game of the NBA playoffs, when there is a dearth of men’s basketball and football on television. This inaugural season would culminate in a championship game the Friday before the first full Saturday of the college football season.

Are the arenas suitable for TV?

Television networks already broadcast games from HBCU arenas, though upgrades could be made if needed. ESPN broadcasts games from Puerto Rico and Las Vegas that are played in hotel auditoriums and other non-traditional venues. Good basketball on a regulation court with an exciting fan atmosphere matters more to a television audiences than the quality of the seats.

Who would be the commissioner?

While individual titles are not yet set, the league was founded by Andy Schwarz, Ricky Volante and Bijan Bayne. Andy has said he would prefer to find a former athlete with recognizable ties to an HBCU. For now decisions are being made by a committee of interested people, spearheaded by Bijan, Ricky, and Andy.

What would happen to the HBCU conferences?

HBCU conferences would stay together for all other sports; if they keep men’s basketball at the varsity level (in addition to participation in the HBL) then they would remain full NCAA members. Those conferences could decide what to do with the basketball teams of schools that decide not to join the league.

Would these schools schedule games against the Power Five?

It is unlikely that the NCAA would consider league members “countable opponents.” However, the league would have no problem with members playing games against NCAA teams.

Initially, league members would likely play against each other. Our hope is that after a year of success, there will be more interested schools than we have space to accommodate.

What do former HBCU athletes think of this?

Former HBCU athletes, coaches and students have reached out in support of the idea. We are also working with current coaches.