A Critical Race Theory Analysis of Big-Time College Sports: Implications for Culturally Responsive and Race-Conscious Sport Leadership

Joseph N. Cooper – University of Connecticut
Akuoma Nwadike – University of Connecticut
Charles Macaulay – University of Connecticut


The growing commercialization of major intercollegiate athletics in the United States (U.S.) has created a values paradox between the rhetoric purported by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and its member institutions and the realities of their practices. Similar to the broader U.S., the structure of the NCAA often reinforces widespread racial hierarchies and inequities. Racial disparities are reflected in graduation rate gaps among and between college athletes and non-athlete college students, disproportionate representations on high revenue-generating teams and concurrent underrepresentation in athletic leadership positions, and numerous adverse impacts associated with economically exploitative policies. The aforementioned trends are a few of the many problematic outcomes that are a byproduct of institutional arrangements rooted in color-blind racism. Using critical race theory (CRT), this manuscript examines how de facto race neutral policies, practices, and enforcements create and perpetuate disparate racial outcomes. In particular, the following five NCAA policies and practices are analyzed: 1) amateurism, 2) initial eligibility standards, 3) graduation success rates (GSRs) and academic progress rates (APRs), 4) lack of racial diversity in leadership positions, and 5) lack of required cultural competency trainings for athletic leadership and staff. Implications for culturally responsive and race-conscious sport leadership are presented and discussed.