A former basketball coach claims his idea to showcase players at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) during one of the sport’s biggest events in the world was “stolen” by a company affiliated with college athletics’ governing body and secured for TV rights. Now he wants an equitable resolution, his lawyers say.
Travis L. Williams, who used to coach at Tennessee State University and Fort Valley State University — HBCUs — as well as on other levels and internationally, is alleging he got cut out of a deal that he proposed last year, according to a press release sent to NewsOne from the law offices of Ben Crump, one of several civil rights attorneys involved.
After pitching the idea of hosting an HBCU All-Star game at the Final Four, a managing director with the NCAA directed him to Intersport Global, a white marketing firm that works with the NCAA and its annual Final Four efforts, the press release said.
Apparently interested in the idea, Intersport Global and the NCAA moved ahead without Williams’ participation and instead offered him “a small consulting role,” the press release said. Likely knowing how lucrative his idea could become, Williams turned down the offer.
His lawyers say that “besides the impropriety of stealing this idea from an African American for the company’s own gain, Intersport Global lacks the diversity within its organization to host an HBCU event,” according to the press release.
A press conference has been announced for Tuesday morning in Atlanta, where legal action could be announced.
Along with Crump, Williams is being represented by Felicia Hall Allen, Heather M. Palmore, Noemi Baez and Mawuli Mel Davis. They are expected to be joined at Tuesday’s press conference by a group of local and national civil rights organizations.
Williams identifies himself on his Twitter bio in part as Executive Director/CFO HBCU All-Stars LLC, which was founded in 2019. The group’s website says it is “looking forward to the 2021 Final Four Tournament Championship & showcasing ‘The Best Players in Black College Basketball’ during ‘College Basketball Biggest Weekend’ in front of a national & global audience.” The 2021 NCAA Tournament is scheduled to be held in its entirety in Indianapolis this year.
The HBCU all-star game has been billed as “a great platform of exposure, justice, equality, and inclusion for our HBCU’s, student-athletes, parents, coaches, alumni, boosters, fans, supporters, great city of Indianapolis, and state of Indiana, HBCU All-Stars LLC will showcase hard-working and talented men’s basketball student-athletes, and brilliant coaches from the MEAC, SWAC, CIAA, SIAC, Tennessee State & Hampton Universities.” The website also says the “game will be significant and historical during a critical time in today’s ever changing society dealing with systemic racism in all its forms, social & economic injustice, police brutality, and voter suppression.”
The press conference will be held amid an ongoing debate over how the NCAA is profiting from the free labor of its athletes. The NCAA Tournament makes up roughly 80 percent of the NCAA’s $1.1 billion in annual revenue
The view that the NCAA and colleges are pimping athletes is especially sensitive to African-Americans, many of whom easily make the connection to the nation’s history of exploiting Black labor. To many, the relationship is similar to plantation owners getting wealthy from their Black slaves.
Public opinion was long been on the NCAA’s side of the debate. Many have argued that receiving a scholarship is fair compensation to student athletes. A 2017 Seton Hall Sports Poll found 60 percent of people held that view, which represented a sharp decline from 2013 when 71 percent of people said scholarships are enough.
At the same time, 40 percent of people believe athletes are exploited by not sharing in the profits they generate—the highest number in the poll’s 10-year history.