College sports earns poor grade for racial, gender hiring practices

Editor’s note: Richard Lapchick is a human rights activist, pioneer for racial equality, expert on sports issues, scholar and author.

Opportunities for people of color and women to be hired in college sports are still not where they need to be for real diversity, equity and inclusion on too many campuses. The current state of diversity at the NCAA headquarters needs to be improved if it is to be held up as a model for diversity, equity and inclusion at member institutions. There are many examples of this need in the 2021 DI FBS Leadership College Racial and Gender Report Card, published today by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.

The FBS Leadership Report Card examined and graded the positions of chancellor/president, athletic director and faculty athletic representative at the 130 institutions that compete in FBS football. The report also analyzed but did not grade head coaches, student-athletes, assistant coaches and conference commissioners.

For the second consecutive year, colleges and universities in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) scored a B- for racial hiring practices and an F for gender hiring practices. Division I FBS schools scored a combined D+, which is the worst of all the racial and gender report cards (including NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA and MLS) published by TIDES.

The reason for the poor grades is simple: White men continue to dominate the leadership positions at colleges and universities. White men held 67.7%, 74.6% and 49.6% of these positions, respectively. White people held 83.9% of chancellor and president positions, 81.5% of athletic director positions and 81.5% of faculty athletic representative positions.

“One of the challenges that I have seen throughout my career in college sport is this idea of hiring someone with the right ‘fit.’ This term, in a monolithic culture, generally means people who look and/or think the same,” Delise S. O’Meally, CEO of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, told me. “This is the antithesis of diversity, and creates barriers to expanding opportunities for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups. Diverse organizations seek and embrace difference, and this difference creates those positive synergies for organizational growth and development.”

The FBS schools received a B- for race and an F for gender in the category of chancellors and presidents; a B for race and an F for gender for athletic directors and a B for race and gender in the faculty athletic representatives position. Two categories had a decline from last year’s report: racial hiring for presidents dropped from a B in 2020 to a B- in 2021, and faculty athletic representatives fell from a B+ in 2020 to a B in 2021.

“In order to achieve true equity and inclusion, there must be diverse voices at the table of decisions,” Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, founder and president of Rainbow/PUSH shared with me. “Without the presence of ethnic minorities and women in this process, we limit the ability to fully engage in an experience that would be authentically sensitive to the purpose, path, and priority of diversity within the business of sports.

“The NCAA has struggled for decades with this issue, as the majority of those who sit in the seats of power within institutions are still white men. Therefore, although the ball fields, arenas and courts are filled with black and brown faces as players, there is still a huge lack of people of color throughout the coaching, management and executive ranks of college sports. This gap must be addressed so that there can be more diversity among those who have the authority and the ability to create opportunities for others, and develop a more equitable share of the economic success of the NCAA. Dr. Lapchick’s research confirms the continuous need for improved hiring practices, and more intentional policies of inclusion to ensure that we can begin moving closer true equity and greater opportunity in life beyond the playing field.”

Greater diversity within university leadership positions likely would lead to more diversity in the hiring of athletic directors and head coaches.

In 2021, although there was a slight increase in the representation of people of color at the head football coaching position, the overall number of football head coaches of color remained low across Division I FBS. Football head coaches of color increased from 21 in 2020 to 23 in 2021 — meaning 17.7% of the head coach position were coaches of color. That is far less than the 62.1% of football student-athletes of color. The 13 Black head coaches represented only 10% of head coaches, compared to 48.7% of football student athletes who are Black.

While the disparity between representation of football head coaches of color and football student-athletes of color is dramatic, there was some improvement. Football head coaches of color increased from 16.2% in 2020 to 17.7 % in 2021, marking two consecutive years of having the highest percentage recorded since the first DI FBS report card in 2006.

The number of Latino head coaches increased by one in 2021, bringing the total to six. Manny Diaz at the University of Miami (Florida), Dave Aranda at Baylor University, Danny Gonzales at the University of New Mexico, Marcus Arroyo at UNLV, Mario Cristobal at the University of Oregon and Andy Avalos at Boise State University identify as Latino.

Several conferences are considering a rule calling for a diverse pool of candidates for all head coaching positions after the West Coast Conference, led by commissioner Gloria Nevarez, adopted the “Russell Rule,” named after Bill Russell, the legendary Boston Celtics star and coach. The Russell Rule is such a mandate. It is an adaptation of what I have been proposing for nearly 20 years — the “Eddie Robinson Rule,” named after the legendary Grambling coach. Both rules are rooted in the NFL’s Rooney Rule. 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. Without it, real change will be hard.

The racial reckoning that started after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 has made more significant changes possible. None the less, the NCAA has not moved on adopting such a rule.

Five years ago, the NCAA adopted the Pledge and Commitment to Promoting Diversity and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics. Since then, 878 schools and 102 conferences have signed the pledge. It sounds noble and promising but has no teeth. The representation of women in campus leadership positions actually decreased slightly by 0.3 percentage points. The percent of campus leadership positions in athletics that were held by people of color was .2 percentage points higher than in 2020, as it rose from 17.5% to a still woeful 17.7%.

“These racial and gender hiring statistics are terrible,” Arne Duncan, the former U.S. Secretary of Education who currently co-chairs the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, told me. He said college sports should create a policy mandating diverse pools of candidates for major positions. “The NCAA Pledge needs teeth,” Duncan said. “We cannot afford to wait. This has become even more critical during the racial reckoning.”

I believe that there is real momentum for change as a result of the racial reckoning. Our athletes on college campuses are speaking out for racial and social justice in society and on campuses. If they direct that positive energy to campus hiring practices and sustain that momentum, I believe we will see real change. We need their voices now more than ever, and I truly believe they will embrace this issue. We will know soon.

Alan Owens and Darnell Theriot Jr. made significant contributions to this column.

Richard E. Lapchick directs the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. He is the author of 17 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card, and is the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook.

Christin Hakim

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