It's the time of the year when the excitement surrounding college sports seems to be at its peak. It is especially true for basketball fans, as there is nothing like March Madness.
Yet as I watch the games and root for several teams, I cannot ignore that there is an elephant in the room. Colleges and the NCAA have consistently refused to acknowledge it. It represents the racial and gender disparities in college sport.
But this much is clear: We need to fundamentally change the way we do business in college sports concerning race and gender.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida has recently issued the "2014 College Sport Racial and Gender Report Card".
Just last week, TIDES released the report on the 2015 men's basketball team's graduation rates and Academic Progress Rates for the teams in the men's and women's NCAA Division I basketball tournaments. We also monitor the NBA, the WNBA, MLB, MLS, the NHL (beginning in 2015) and the media.
The 2014 College Sport Report Card was very discouraging.
College sports received its lowest overall grade in the 18-year history of the report card. College Sports received a C-plus for racial hiring practices, its lowest grade in more than a decade. College Sports' gender grade, which dropped to C-minus, tied the NFL for the worst gender grade.
Here are some of the discouraging findings:
• In 2013-2014, white people dominated the head-coaching ranks on men's teams, holding 86.8 percent, 88.8 percent and 91.3 percent of all head-coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively.
• In 2013-2014, white people held 85.2 percent, 88.4 percent and 91.3 percent of the women's head-coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively. For both the men's and women's teams, these represented increases for white people in Divisions I and II and a slight decrease in Division III.
• There were significant decreases in opportunities for people of color among men's and women's basketball head coaches. For the 2013-14 season, 22 percent of the men's Division I basketball coaches were African-American (down from 23 percent) and 23.8 percent were coaches of color (down from 24.8 percent). The all-time high was in 2005-06, when 25.2 percent of all the head coaches were African American and 26.2 were people of color. The all-time low was during the 2011-2012 season when 18.6 percent were African-American and 19.5 percent were coaches of color. After much scrutiny was placed on the sport, the 2012-2013 season witnessed an impressive gain of 4.4 percentage points. However, the 2014 season saw another lapse.
• For Division I women's basketball in the 2013-14 season, African-American women head coaches held 10.6 percent of the positions and African-American men held 3.7 percent of the positions for a combined percentage of 14.3 percent, which was a significant decrease from the 20.6 percent reported in 2012-2013.
• The number of head football coaches of color at the FBS level decreased from 15 in the 2013 report to 14 at the start of the 2014 season. Nearly 89 percent were white.
While it has been common practice for men to coach women's teams, it is rare for a woman to coach a men's team. Women held only 38.2 percent of the head-coaching jobs of women's teams in Division I, 34.8 percent in Division II and 43.9 percent in Division III. Women held 47 percent, 48.9 percent and 51.2 percent of assistant-coaching positions of women's teams in Divisions I, II and III, respectively.
White people held the overwhelming percentage of athletics director positions during the 2013-2014 year at 87.7 percent, 91.5 percent and 94.5 percent in Divisions I, II and III, respectively. Women made up only 9.6 percent of Division I athletics directors.
All FBS conference commissioners were white men in 2014. Thirty-one of the 32 Division I conference commissioners (excluding HBCUs) were white.
As for the graduation rates, there was plenty of good news with the continuing improvement of graduation rates for both men and women, as well as white and African-American players on the tournament teams. But the dispiriting news once again came on the issue of race. There remains a staggering 24 percent gap between the graduation rates of white and African-American male students on the tournament teams. The women, who have historically performed much better academically, including the disparity between African-American and white female student-athletes, saw the disparity jump from a modest 5 percent to 12 percent. This has to raise alarms in a big way.
These results call for dramatic action on the part of the NCAA to redouble their efforts on all matters concerning race and gender.
I have been calling for what I refer to as an "Eddie Robinson Rule," named after the iconic Grambling State football coach. It would be patterned on the Rooney Rule, which would make it mandatory to bring in a diverse pool of candidates for every opening for a men's and women's head-coaching position in Division I. On the women's teams, this would include making it mandatory that two-thirds of the candidates interviewed be women.
I would also call for the "Judy Sweet Rule," named after Title IX pioneer who was the nation's first female athletics director and first woman to be NCAA president. The Sweet Rule would require a diverse pool of candidates, including women and people of color for all senior administrative positions at both the NCAA Headquarters and at Division I college athletic departments. At the college level, this would include the athletics director, associate athletic directors, assistant athletic directors and the sports information director.
As far as addressing the academic disparity between African-American and white student-athletes, I propose that race become a factor in the Academic Progress Rates so that the final score has one more indicator of race in determining how the university is doing. I would propose anywhere the gap is 10 percent or less for men and 5 percent or less for women that the school would receive an elevated APR score. Anything above those percentages would result in a lower score with potential penalties and sanctions.
While these historic differences have plagued us for decades, I do believe that taking action would create more opportunities for all positions in college sports for women and people of color and more realistic chances for academic success for African-American student-athletes who currently don't get the help they need on enough campuses to succeed.