The 'Old Boys Network' in College Sports

January 26, 2006

Like many industries, Richard Lapchick argues, college sports subscribes to the "old boys' network" approach to employment -- the idea that the people doing the hiring are typically drawn to those with whom they are comfortable, which often means people who look like them.

If that's the case, it's no wonder there are so few black football coaches at universities with big-time programs (5 of 119 as of the end of the 2005 season), because the vast majority of those doing the hiring at those institutions are white men, according to data compiled by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which Lapchick directs.

In a study released Wednesday, the institute examined the ethnic and gender makeup of the powers-that-be -- presidents, athletics directors, and faculty athletics representatives -- at the 119 universities in Division I-A, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's top competitive level, and at the conferences they play in.

Among the findings (which were as of late November, when the information was collected):

  • Of the 119 presidents of the institutions, 112 (or 94.1 percent) are white and 97 (81.5 percent) are white men. Four are black men, three are Hispanic men, and 15 are white women.
  • One hundred six (89.1 percent) of the 119 athletics directors are white, and 101 (84.9 percent) are white men. Ten are black men, three are Latino men, and five are white women.
  • Of the 119 faculty athletics representatives -- who are the liaisons between the faculty and the athletics department and often play a role in setting sports policies on their campuses -- 112 are white, and 83 (or 69.7 percent) are white men.
  • The commissioners of all 11 conferences whose teams compete in Division I-A were white men.
  • During the 2005 season, only three of the 119 Division I-A teams -- Mississippi State University and the Universities of California at Los Angeles and Washington) were coached by black men, the fewest since the early 1990s. (Two more were hired after the season ended, at Kansas State University and the State University of New York at Buffalo.) By contrast, 49 percent of the players in Division I-A football were black.

“Does the fact that the leadership at our institutions of higher education is overwhelmingly white and male have an impact on the hiring of head football coaches?" Lapchick said. "How could it not?”

In an interview, Lapchick said that the goal of the study (and of those who, like him, seek more minority representation in the sports coaching ranks) is not to pressure colleges to hire black or other minority candidates for a specific job opening.

“It’s to make sure that in that process, the people look beyond those they know and are comfortable with and throw the net out far enough to get the widest range of candidates, and then pick from among the best ones. By that process opening up,” he said, “there will be more African-Americans hired.”

Sidney A. McPhee, president of Middle Tennessee State University, is one of the four black male presidents at Division I-A universities, and is a member of the NCAA's Executive Committee. He said the numbers in the Central Florida study provide evidence that "our society has not made the kind of progress we'd like to think we've made."

"I'm not convinced that those with decision making authority are taking [diversity issues] as seriously as the rhetoric would suggest," McPhee said. He recalled looking around a conference table at his cabinet early in his presidency at Middle Tennessee State and thinking to himself, "McPhee, you've been one of those radical professors who complain about the lack of diversity. Now the buck stops with you as president. Who are you going to complain to now?" Middle Tennessee's top administrators are more diverse now than they were then, he said, but it has taken "great effort" and "will power."

In athletics, he said, "I just don't think the effort has been made." For what it's worth, McPhee has not hired a black football coach or athletics director at Middle Tennessee. In that, he is not alone -- neither have any of the other African-American presidents in Division I-A, according to the Central Florida study.

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