Before the Rev. Jesse Jackson decried the dearth of minority coaches in college sports, and before Myles Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said that the status quo is "unacceptable," but that his hands are largely tied, the chairman of a Congressional subcommittee who invited the two panelists felt the need to defend the subject as hearing-worthy
College sports is big business, "interstate commerce in its truest sense," Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who heads the U.S House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, said during his opening statement. In a message that Rush said was directed to Republican critics across the aisle, he added that "racial and gender discrimination in college sports is worthy of our examination."
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the senior Republican on the House committee, assured Rush that he and other Republican members supported the inquiry, which officially examined "the lack of diversity in leadership positions in NCAA collegiate sports." And with that, the flood of statistics began.
Panelists pointed out that the overall number of black college coaches has not increased over the past decade -- and the dearth of minority coaches is most pronounced in college football. Excluding historically black institutions, there are 14 black head coaches over all at NCAA institutions. That's 2.4 percent of the total, in a sport in which more than half of the athletes are black.
Of the 119 Division I-A coaches in college football, six are black. Division I-AA and Divisions II and III don't fare any better. Neither do colleges in hiring people of color to fill athletics director and conference commissioner openings. Men's basketball is the aberration: more than 25 percent of head coaches in the sport are black.
As the lawmakers stated their concerns about the status quo, the question turned to whether legislation might be appropriate.
Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) said that if colleges don't make fixes themselves, "there are a lot of legislative things that can be done to fix it.”
Rush said if colleges continue to pass over minority coaches, he would consider proposing a bill that would mandate change. Neither Rush nor his colleagues would expand on how legislation might deal with the issue, saying that the subcommittee is still in fact-finding mode. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) asked those who testified, "If we consider legislation, what should we consider?"
Some suggested that a bill could include the principles found in the National Football League's "Rooney Rule," which stipulates that every coaching search must include at least one candidate of color. (The rule is widely credited for the recent increase in black NFL coaches.) If the subcommittee would consider a bill, then why not the NCAA? asked Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.)
“Part of my personal frustration with this issue is the lack of direct control the NCAA has over the matter,” Brand responded. “The colleges and universities will not cede to the NCAA the authority to dictate who to interview or hire in athletics.”
Not only did Brand discount the possibility of the NCAA adopting a version of the Rooney Rule, but he also said that "it's not where the answers lie." According to the Black Coaches Association Minority Report Card, three in four college coaching searches already include at least one minority candidate, which Brand sees as proof that the problem is with the results of the search.
“The will to hire is just not there right now…. I’m not as optimistic as I’d like," Brand said of the college football hiring environment.
While none of the panelists challenged Brand's assertion that the NCAA stay on the sidelines, Richard E. Lapchick, whose Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida publishes an annual race and gender report card, said in written testimony that he would favor the adoption of a Rooney Rule in college sports.
Lee A. McElroy, athletics director at the State University of New York at Albany and president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, said he also supports a collegiate version of the NFL's rule because the current strategies "have not altered the landscape for hiring practices." Legislation is best done at the college level and not through Congressional action, said McElroy, who was not a panelist.
Brand argued that the BCA's Hiring Report Card, which evaluates factors such as who is interviewed and the diversity of the search committee, puts pressure on colleges to pay attention to their athletics hiring practices. He said increased attention should be paid to the final stages of the hiring process, when consultants and search committees turn names over to the president, and when boosters often have their say.
Jackson said the problem is with "incestuous coaching pools," particularly in college football. Another panelist, the former University of Arkansas men's basketball coach Nolan Richardson, said that the good ol' boy network of boosters who favor white, established coaches is still "well and alive" and is a large part of the problem.
Brand responded that boosters are a challenge at some institutions, but that the problem "shouldn't be exaggerated." He added that more people have their "hands on the wheel" during a college coaching search than during one in the NFL.
Richardson said the best hope for change is through a federal law. But Burgess reminded panelists not to expect any quick Congressional action, saying that "I do know this place moves slowly."
In the meantime, the BCA is considering whether to file federal race-discrimination lawsuits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act against colleges that it determines are not engaging in fair hiring practices. Action could come from the organization or from individuals, he said.
Lapchick, of Central Florida, said both lawsuits and legislation have to be on the table. “It’s pretty clear that embarrassment hasn’t been enough," he said.
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