Listen to this article here

When Jacqie McWilliams, one of several HBCU commissioners, sat at a table with other college sports leaders three years ago to discuss name, image and likeness, she ruminated about what she could do to empower HBCU athletes.

With less government funding and fewer resources than Power Five schools, historically Black schools have a harder time recruiting top athletes. NIL, with little uniformity in how it is enforced across states, schools and regions, has only widened that pre-existing gap. 

YouTube video

According to AP News, the commissioners of the four major HBCU conferences — the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) — recently agreed to work more closely together in partnering with professional sports leagues, including the NBA and NFL, to increase the value of HBCUs and send more athletes to the pros.

SIAC Commissioner Anthony Holloman is rooting for everybody Black

“We are doing it in collaboration knowing that we have strength as a collective,” SIAC Commissioner Anthony Holloman said. “We know when we play our conferences, compete, it’s a game, but on all other days we are rooting for each other.”

McWilliams, who is in her 10th year as commissioner of the CIAA, a league composed of 12 HBCUs in Division II, has seen NIL make way for schools to help athletes turn their creativity into money.

“That’s helping us to now enhance a lot of things, our conference operations,” said GCAC Commissioner Dr. Kiki Barnes, “and what we’re able to do for our student-athletes.”

HBCU athletes are performing at all-time highs

Men’s basketball athletes from HBCUs Texas Southern and Howard will compete on the NCAA’s national stage this week.

The Tigers, who won the SWAC’s conference tournament, will face Fairleigh Dickinson in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament on Wednesday evening, with the winner advancing to face No. 1 seeded Purdue in the first round. Howard, winner of the MEAC conference tournament, will take on another No. 1 seed in Kansas on Thursday.

Norfolk State’s women’s basketball team defeated Howard in the MEAC conference tournament to advance and face overall No. 1 South Carolina on Friday.

SWAC Commissioner Dr. Charles McClelland said the introduction of NIL coupled with the rise of the transfer portal has brought more athletes to his league, which is also comprised of popular HBCU Grambling State and in 2021 added Florida A&M and Bethune Cookman University.

HBCU Commissioners warn NIL deals “court hurt us”

“It’s other things that we need to prioritize before we prioritize name, image, and likeness,” MEAC Commissioner Sonja Stills said.

Stills added that her league doesn’t have the financial capital to compete in the NIL space in the same way as bigger schools anyway, which she sees as a negative affect for recruitment.

“We don’t call up the alumni and say, ’Hey, I want $12 million for all the student-athletes for NIL,” Stills said. “We can’t do that. So it’s the difference of widening that gap. Student-athletes look at where they want to go to school based on what the NIL deal could be at that particular school. So it definitely puts us at a disadvantage.”

McWilliams doesn’t believe it’s necessarily a goal for HBCUs to compete monetarily with their Power Five counterparts, adding that the playing field will never be completely even anyway.

“The NIL, the transfer portal, who will it benefit the most, and who will it hurt the most?” McWilliams said. “It could help us. But it could hurt us. But we’ve been dealing with that for a hundred and sixty-something years.”

H&R is blocking gender pay gaps at HBCUs

H&R Block’s NIL program A Fair Shot aims to level the playing field, so female college athletes have a fair shot at getting the money their talents have earned, and highlights the tax implications of NIL income.

YouTube video

In its second year, this year’s program has expanded to offer NIL deals to 50 female college athletes from 13 different sports, across NCAA Division II and Division III schools, as well as Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

In addition, H&R Block is joined by Fabletics and Jambys, who have also pledged to help close the NIL sponsorship gap.

You can see the full list of 2023 A Fair Shot athletes at

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...