The Future Of Howard University Athletics Reaches A Pivotal Moment

As the conversations around player compensation, and if black athletes should consider HBCUs at a higher rate, are at an all-time high, Howard University is in a position to dictate the conversation.

Howard’s basketball and football programs have been in the news lately, and the underlying themes have dealt with student-athletes understanding the power they possess.

In a column that debuted on Wednesday for The Atlantic, five-star basketball recruit Josh Christopher revealed to Jemele Hill that he’s planning to officially visit Howard. The Bison haven’t been to the NCAA tournament in 27 years but have found a way to get the 12th ranked player in the 2020 class (according to ESPN) to The Yard. Christopher is also weighing offers from Arizona State, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and UCLA.

Howard is the lone HBCU on Christopher’s list. However, the Washington D.C. based HBCU is also on the list of Makur Maker, a 6’11” prospect who sits two spots higher than Christopher at No. 10. Maker allegedly will make his visit during Howard’s Homecoming weekend, while Christopher is expected to appear on campus this weekend.

Two of the best players in high school basketball that play in a state without a single HBCU (California) are headed to Howard for visits, where they could potentially be playing in an arena that holds less than 3,000 people.

“I think I have pretty good influence on kids right now, especially basketball players,” Christopher told Hill. “My main thing is to make sure that whoever is watching me is getting the right stuff. I know there are a lot of kids that have told me they look up to me, that are inspired by me.”

“Not all kids can go to the Kentuckys and the Dukes and all the other high-major programs that are on ESPN every night.”

Christopher’s mentality is similar to the one former No. 1 high school football prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux had when he disclosed to me why he took a shocking unofficial visit to Florida A&M last year.

“I’m big on culture and paying homage,” he told me back in August of 2018. “Even when I went on a visit to Alabama, I went by the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that was in the movie ‘Selma’. For me, I have a lot of friends that aren’t that highly recruited and might not be getting offers and then they go to a junior college. So why go to a junior college when you can go to an HBCU? I just feel like every high school African-American athlete should check out an HBCU.”

But while Thibodeaux wants more players to give HBCUs a closer look, and Christopher and Maker are taking time to make the pilgrimage to “The Mecca,” it doesn’t mean that everybody is happy there.

After Howard’s starting quarterback, Caylin Newton, who is Cam’s little brother, announced that he was redshirting four games into the season, he later decided to put his name into the transfer portal as his career at Howard is officially over.

John Smith VI (DB), Iggy Reynoso (LB) and Khalid Dorsey (RB) will also be joining Newton in the transfer portal. In just a week, Howard lost the face of their entire athletic department in Newton, along with three contributors to their football program.


Howard University did not immediately respond to the Shadow League’s request for comment.

The timing of all these moving pieces is what’s most fascinating here, as the news of Christopher’s decision came on the same day that The Atlantic also released a story on how a new paper by a group of economists revealed how Harvard University’s use of race as a factor in admissions isn’t a violation of the Civil Rights Act, but does give preferential treatment to wealthy white applicants that participate in sports that are overwhelmingly white like water polo, squash, crew, lacrosse, and skiing.

It’s the exact reason why Hill previously called for black athletes to leave white colleges.

This is why Howard has become so important in this discussion.

On one hand, they have two possible All-Americans headed to campus. But on the other, they have football players packing their bags looking for greener pastures, which could take them to a predominantly white institution.

Just two months ago, Howard’s athletic department was on cloud nine due to Steph Curry’s seven-figure donation that would bring back, and sustain, the school’s golf program.

Weeks later, and one can’t help to wonder why some are intrigued by the school, while others have decided to leave.

Who knows?

But one thing is for certain.

There is an awakening going on right now amongst student-athletes, and black players, as always, are leading the way. Whether it be about them understanding their value when it comes to making money off their likeness, or realizing just how much power they have when it comes to making the rules work for them (redshirting or transferring), their sensibilities to the landscape of collegiate athletics is evolving.

What does, and doesn’t, happen at Howard will have a major say in how things turn out. And it won’t just affect them, as it could influence how HBCUs are viewed by top-tier black athletes in the future.

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