Editor’s note: Richard Lapchick is a human rights activist, pioneer for racial equality, expert on sports issues, scholar and author.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many college sports have been postponed, cut or canceled since March. The world has been confronted by a racial reckoning that came about after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Student-athletes have used their platforms to showcase their activism and bring awareness to social and racial injustices. Many players opted out of the season, fighting to have their voices heard for the changes that need to be made in many of these institutions.
Student-athletes are being heard and will demand stronger leadership and accountability from the institutions and the NCAA on social justice issues. Diverse leadership would bring new ideas from different perspectives and more in-depth discussions to aid in the reform that the collegiate sports system needs. Unfortunately, while some improvement has been made in racial and gender hiring, colleges and universities continue to fail in this area. This is clearly shown in the 2020 DI FBS Leadership College Racial and Gender Report Card issued Wednesday by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.
For the 130 institutions that compete in FBS football, the report card examined and graded the positions of chancellor, president, athletic director, faculty athletic representative and conference commissioner. The report also analyzed but did not grade head coaches, student-athletes and assistant coaches.
Colleges and universities in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) scored a B- for racial hiring practices in 2020 after scoring a C in last year’s report. They received an F for gender hiring practices.
As in previous years, white men continue to dominate leadership positions at these institutions of higher education. Division I FBS schools scored a combined D+, up from a D in the 2019 report card. While it is important to note the progress, it does not diminish the fact that of all the 2020 Racial and Gender Report Cards (including MLB, NBA, WNBA, NFL and MLS), the FBS schools’ combined D+ grade was by far the worst.
The 2020 report revealed that the hiring for campus chancellors and presidents received a B for race and an F for gender, while hiring for athletic directors received a B- for race and an F for gender. The appointment of faculty athletic representatives received a B for race and a B+ for gender. The only category that showed a decline from last year’s report is racial hiring for athletic directors, going from a B in 2019 to a B- in 2020. While the gender grade remained terrible, there was an increase of women as athletic directors, from nine to 12 after the hirings of Candice Storey Lee at Vanderbilt, Amy Folan at Central Michigan University and Julie Cromer at Ohio University. Still an F!
According to the 2020 report from TIDES, white people held 80.8% of chancellor and president positions, 83.1% of athletic director positions and 80.0% of faculty athletic representative positions, with white men representing 66.9%, 76.9% and 48.2% of these positions, respectively.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, reacted to the report, telling me: “The lack of diversity in hiring practices is usually based on a trickle-down effect. If there are no people of color at the top making decisions, there is less awareness and sensitivity to the need to include qualified minority candidates as an ongoing priority.” He said the data “indicates that the lack of diverse leadership in the highest ranks of the colleges has resulted in an insufficient number of minority coaches and staff within athletic departments.”
“This is especially troubling when such a high percentage of our student-athletes come from various ethnic backgrounds,” Jackson said, “yet their coaching staff and leadership does not reflect the rest of the team. Diversity and inclusion must become an institution-wide commitment. Yet we also know and appreciate the fact that the sports industry has historically taken a lead role in breaking the cycle of inequality in order to bring about significant change. Therefore, the college world needs to have this type of meaningful wake-up call so we can see true diversity and inclusion both on and off the playing field.”
I have no doubt that if there was more diversity within university leadership positions, it would impact the hiring of head coaches.
In 2020, the representation of people of color remained low at the head football coach position across Division I FBS. Football head coaches of color increased by three, from 18 in 2019 to 21 in 2020, but it was far below the 60.6% of football student-athletes who are players of color. The 13 Black men who were head coaches represented only 10% of head coaches, compared to 48.5% of football student-athletes who are Black.
The number of Latino head coaches increased significantly, from one in 2019 to five. Manny Diaz at the University of Miami, Dave Aranda at Baylor University, Danny Gonzales at the University of New Mexico, Marcus Arroyo at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Mario Cristobal at the University of Oregon identify as Latino.
It is pathetic that the 16.2% of football head coaches of color marked the highest percentage recorded since the DI FBS report card was first published in 2006. There was a 2.3 percentage point increase.
In the fall of 2020, the West Coast Conference, led by commissioner Gloria Nevarez, adopted the “Russell Rule” named after Bill Russell, the legendary Boston Celtics star and coach. It is an adaptation of what I have been proposing for nearly 20 years — the “Eddie Robinson Rule,” named after the great Grambling coach. Both rules are rooted in the NFL’s Rooney Rule, adopted after I went with civil rights attorneys Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus Mehri to the NFL league office in 2002 threatening legal action if the NFL did not act to hire more coaches of color. After working with the WCC on this, I have been in conversations with five other conferences about adopting such a rule, no matter what it is called. The NCAA had maintained that its member institutions would never approve such a rule. I don’t care what they call it. Any of the three “R Rules” would all hasten positive change.
“College sport has to adopt a rule that will mandate diverse pools of candidates for all major positions,” Arne Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education who currently co-chairs the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, shared with me. “Stalling on this change has resulted in the terrible statistics we see in this Report Card. The time is now.”
But as Bob Dylan wrote in 1964, “the times they are a-changin’.” The racial reckoning that started after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor has made more significant changes possible. The NCAA committee charged with promoting racial and cultural diversity endorsed the Russell Rule and recommended that the NCAA board of governors take up the rule at its Jan. 13 meeting. Whatever you call them, these rules are designed to improve and diversify the racial and gender hiring practices of college sports by mandating a diverse pool of candidates for every opening for a Division I men’s and women’s head-coaching position and for all senior administrative positions at both the NCAA headquarters and in Division I athletic departments.
Four years ago, the NCAA adopted the Pledge and Commitment to Promoting Diversity and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics. Since then, 871 schools and 102 conferences have signed the pledge. But there are no teeth to the pledge, resulting in the fact that only 17.5% of campus leadership positions in athletics are held by people of color, and women hold just 22.8%. While that may be better than the results in the 2019 report that showed 15% of campus leadership positions were held by people of color and 19% were held by women, much more needs to be done.
A large part of the momentum that has been created right now has been highly influenced by the large spike in social and racial justice movements this year. If these institutions of higher education do not actively participate in change, they will continue to be stuck in the past. Sam Sachs, a longtime activist for mandatory diverse pools of candidates, @richardlapchick and on Facebook.