It has been an unprecedented year for college sports and the NCAA. Several legal battles are erupting at powerhouse athletic universities, including one at Kansas over alleged recruiting violations. High-profile professional athletes such as LeBron James are calling for support on the debate that would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness.
Strong leadership will be required to face these issues, support student-athletes and sustain the collegiate sports system as a whole. Diverse leadership would bring new ideas from different perspectives, potentially bettering everyone. Unfortunately, our colleges and universities continue to fail in this area, according to the 2019 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.
At the 130 institutions that compete in FBS football, the positions examined for this report were chancellor, president, athletic director, faculty athletic representative and conference commissioner.
Colleges and universities in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) scored a C for racial hiring practices and an F for gender hiring practices. As white men continue to dominate the leadership positions at the higher education institutions, Division I FBS schools scored a combined D grade. These scores are by far the lowest overall grades of the 2019 Racial and Gender Report Cards. And, to echo my sentiments from last year: a student in any of these schools would either be expelled or put on academic probation with these grades.
The 2019 report also revealed that the hiring for campus chancellors and presidents received a D for race and an F for gender, while hiring for athletic directors received a B for race and an F for gender and appointment of faculty athletic representatives received a C+ for race and a B- for gender.
This year, the NCAA celebrated its 150th season of college football. Since the inaugural game between Rutgers and Princeton on Nov. 6, 1869, the game itself has gone through a lot of positive growth and successful change. However, throughout these 150 years, a disappointing constant has been the fact that individuals in positions of power at these institutions of higher learning have, overwhelmingly, been white men.
According to the 2019-20 report from TIDES, white people held 88.5 percent of chancellor and president positions, 80.8 percent of athletic director positions and 83.6 percent of faculty athletic representative positions, with white men representing 77.7, 76.2 and 52.9 percent of these positions, respectively. These results are a stark contrast to the nearly 60 percent of football student-athletes who are players of color. Based on these figures, it is evident that there needs to be more concrete efforts to add diversity when it comes to hiring at NCAA colleges and universities.
Despite these failures, there is some good news. This year, Keith Gill became the first African-American commissioner of an FBS conference. In March, Gill was named the Commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference. A few months later, Kevin Warren, the former chief operating officer of the Minnesota Vikings, was named the Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference. In 2015, Warren made history as the first African-American COO of an NFL team when the Vikings hired him.
In 2019, the number of athletic directors of color increased to 24 (18.5 percent). That was up 3.1 percentage points from 2018, reaching its highest percentage since this report was first published. These results are encouraging and provide hope that things can change soon at the college and university level.
“It is imperative that we hold ourselves accountable,” said Nicholas Clark, former Division I FBS player and the first African-American appointed Chair of the NCAA Board of Governors Student-Athlete Engagement Committee. “Our leadership in 2019 is not reflective of the student-athlete population at our Division I FBS institutions.”
“We must educate ourselves as an association to be experts on these topics and fully commit and be ready to implement diversity and inclusion amongst our presidents, athletic directors, faculty athletic representatives and conference commissioners,” Clark added.
It is critical for the NCAA to institute the “Eddie Robinson Rule,” a change I have advocated for more than a decade. In addition to this change, I would recommend the “Judy Sweet Rule.” The Robinson and Sweet rules are designed to improve and diversify the racial and gender hiring practices of college sports. The Robinson Rule, named after the legendary Grambling coach and patterned after the NFL’s Rooney Rule, would initiate opportunity for a diverse pool of candidates for every opening for a Division I men’s and women’s head-coaching position. On the women’s teams, this would include making it mandatory that two-thirds of the candidates interviewed be women. The Sweet Rule, named after the first female athletics director and first NCAA woman president, would require a diverse pool of candidates, including women and people of color, for all senior administrative positions at both the NCAA headquarters and in Division I college athletic departments.
In a joint statement over email, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and Dr. Joseph Bryant, National Sports Director of Rainbow/PUSH coalition, said, “There is certainly no talent deficit among qualified minority candidates, but an opportunity deficit where doors have not been opened to allow more people of color a chance to show their capability. The leadership of the NCAA should be much more reflective of the athletes on the field. When new positions become vacant, there needs to be an intentional plan to avoid the ‘old boys network’ where they merely recycle the same white males and move them around from school to school. College athletics should represent the best of what our country, our communities and our educational system can be and provide constant chances for new faces to rise into positions of power, influence and impact.”
Three 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. Unfortunately, only 15 percent of campus leadership positions in athletics are held by people of color, and women hold just 19 percent. Last year, 14.6 percent of campus leadership positions in athletics were held by people of color and 19.5 percent were held by a woman. Despite the pledge’s efforts, it’s clearly not working.
“The diversity pledge that universities have signed onto is just a small, first step. It has to be followed by action on the part of the FBS conferences,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education from 2009 to 2015. “The TIDES study shows a dearth of institutional commitment to diversity.”
Duncan, who now chairs the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, recommended that “each institution should publish annual data on the racial and gender diversity of their athletics administration and coaching staff so recruits have better information about the diversity hiring practices of the schools recruiting them.”
It is embarrassing for professional sports leagues and individual teams to be ahead of college sports in their hiring practices.
“Throughout history, young people on college campuses have led a nation resistant to positive, inclusive change,” Delise S. O’Meally, the executive director of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, said. “Students have continued to take a stand against discrimination, inequity and injustice. Today’s student-athletes deserve to be educated, coached, and led by a diverse administration that is open to, and understanding of, their varied needs.”
Colleges and universities will continue to be stuck in the past if they do not embrace diversity by working to change their hiring practices. I am hopeful that positive change will occur soon. Still, leaders across college sports must foster an environment that embraces and exemplifies a true and meaningful commitment to change and set examples through real action.
David Morrin and Nicholas Mutebi made significant contributions to this column.
Richard E. Lapchick is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 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 ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick.