The Gentrification of College Basketball
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From The Undefeated:

The Gentrification of College Hoops

… That players like Iverson and Waters – the first members of their families to go to college – are increasingly rare in college sports, even in the big-money, high-stakes sports of basketball and football. Indeed, most athletic scholarships are going to middle-class kids with college-educated parents, not to kids from poor families who need a scholarship to get anywhere close to a university campus.

Simply put, NCAA sports have been gentrified. …

Fewer than 1 in 5 students playing Division 1 hoops, and 1 in 7 in all Division 1 sports, come from families in which neither parent went to college. And their numbers are declining.

Educators call such students “first gens,” or members of the first generation of their family to attend college. It is a closely tracked figure because it’s a key measure of socioeconomic opportunity. First gens are typically from poor and working-class families that have difficulty paying for college without scholarships. For first gen athletes who don’t go onto the pros — the vast majority – an athletic scholarship is their ticket not just to a degree, but also for entry into the middle class.

In 2010, the NCAA began asking college athletes whether they are first gens as part of its little-known GOALS Study, which captures the background and experience of those playing sports at all three levels of competition. In 2015, it did another survey of 21,000 athletes. The Undefeated asked the NCAA to break out a portion of the data on first gens to get a fuller understanding of who gets to play college sports.

Surprisingly, the data revealed that most Division 1 sports experienced steep drops in first gen students. The falloff was dramatic even in the sports most associated with tales of uplift: In men’s basketball, the sport that used to have the highest percentage of first gens, the number plummeted by a third in just five years. Women’s basketball experienced a similar drop. Football fell by more than 10 percent. …

There were about 400 fewer first gens in Division 1 men’s hoops in 2015 than in 2010, and about 300 fewer in women’s hoops. That’s the equivalent of 50 teams, enough to fill much of each NCAA tournament bracket.

One reason is because as the generations go by, fewer and fewer Americans have no ancestors who went to college.
… The reasons behind the loss of opportunities for disadvantaged students are complex. But they are driven by at least three factors:

Rising academic standards at the NCAA and its member colleges.

The increasing importance and cost of early training to being recruited for Division 1 sports.

A growing black middle class that can afford the early training and educational advantages that open the door to college sports opportunities.

Basketball, like some other sports, seem to be becoming more hereditary. My impression is that, going back to Grant Hill, Mike Bibby, and Kobe Bryant, NBA players are increasingly the sons of affluent professional athletes. The Golden State Warriors have won two of the last three NBA titles with a team built around Steph Curry, son of Del Curry, and Klay Thompson, son of Mychal Thompson. Curry attended Davidson, a rich kids’ school.

Two of the better-known high school prospects this year are 6’10″ Shareef O’Neal, son of Shaquille O’Neal, who scored 29 yesterday in a California state championship game, and 7’2″ Bol Bol, son of the late Manute Bol.

Another factor is the NBA has a one-and-done rule that you can’t play in the NBA for the first year after you finish high school. So some colleges (like Kentucky) specialize in recruiting a new crop of potential superstars each year, while other colleges focus on recruiting players who will hang around and contribute for four years without getting thrown out for flunking all their classes.

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