Report Card: Colleges have long way to go

The University of Miami's hiring of Randy Shannon as its head football coach made headlines last week, but it wasn't enough to improve the grade that college football received for its hiring practices this year under the College Racial and Gender Report Card released Wednesday. College sports received a B-minus for race and a B for gender hiring practices, but it received an F in the area of hiring college football coaches, with only 5 percent of the Division IA head coaches being African-American, compared to 45 percent of the players. The report card, which I co-authored with Jenny Brenden, was published by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida.

Many Miami alumni were pleased to have one of their own lead the team after several down years in which the team didn't win up to previous levels and continued to have troubling on- and off-field issues in what often seemed like a football program out of control. The latest episodes were the in-game brawl between Florida International and Miami players, as well as one player being killed and another shot in separate incidents. "SportsCenter" showed images of the brawl over and over.

Jordan Abbott, a DeVos graduate assistant in the business development and strategy department for the Orlando Magic, told me, "As a graduate of the University of Miami, an avid college football fan, and someone working in the sports industry, I'm proud to see that Miami hired Randy Shannon. There is no doubt that President Donna Shalala and athletic director Paul Dee received intense pressure from fans, the media and boosters to make a splash and find a big-time replacement. They made the right choice in promoting Shannon from defensive coordinator. He is well-respected by current and former players and has proven himself as a coach, most recently as the mastermind behind the Hurricanes' perennially top-rated defense.

"Shalala and Dee took the first [and toughest] step in changing the culture of the program -- they hired a first-time head coach. Is he qualified? Yes. Will he succeed? I hope so. As long as the Hurricane family recognizes that it takes time to achieve greatness and we give Randy Shannon the support and opportunity to succeed long-term without his having to look over his shoulder every step of the way, we all will win."

Others concerned about the lack of opportunity for African-American head coaches were elated that the number of black head coaches had increased, even if only by one, to six. That is still below the all-time high of eight nearly a decade ago.

Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches Association, said, "College athletic directors and search firms are paying attention to the fact that they won't go unnoticed if they don't have an equitable hiring process." Keith was referring to the Football Hiring Report Card published for the third time this fall by the BCA.

When the BCA started the report, there were three African-American head coaches. In year one, there was no change. Presidents and athletic directors did not know how to react to the fact that a vocal and influential organization was watching. In the second year of the report, the number of African-American head coaches went from three to five with the hiring of Turner Gill at Buffalo and Ron Prince at Kansas State, who joined African-American head coaches at UCLA, Mississippi State and Washington.

Less noticed was what happened at the Division I-AA level. When the report was first published there was only one I-AA African-American head coach. Today, there are six in the I-AA head coaching ranks -- at Valparaiso, Southeast Missouri State, Northern Arizona, St. Peter's College, Indiana State and Columbia. Said Keith: "Nobody's happy that we only have six head coaches in each division, but we are happy that there is progress. Universities are bringing in capable candidates who are black, and the result has been hires in schools where that may not have happened previously."

This year the BCA will launch a hiring report card in two other areas that were as bad as football, where 45 percent of college football players are African-American and there is such a low percentage of coaches. While football continued to get major attention from the media and critics, two other prominent areas are women's basketball and athletic director positions. Vivian Stringer is the coach at Rutgers and is one of the few African-American women leading a prominent team. For years she has told me that "this is as big a problem as football. We need to pay attention to the dwindling number of African-American women coaching our African-American student-athletes." This year's report card showed an all-time high in the percentage of African-American women playing college basketball (44 percent), yet only 9 percent of the women's head coaches were African-American women.

Another concern is in the area of athletic directors. There has been significant progress at the Division I-A level, where 12 African-Americans and three Latinos were ADs in the 2006-07 academic year. When you go deep and look at Division I, II and III, AD posts are overwhelmingly held by whites at 94 percent, 92 percent and 96 percent, respectively.

Keith Tribble is the most recently appointed African-American Division I-A athletic director (at the University of Central Florida). Said Tribble: "It's not about hiring African-Americans, Latinos or Asians. It is about hiring the most qualified people. Get everyone into the room for an interview and let the committee pick the best person. We just have to make sure that a diverse pool of candidates is considered."

Starting in 2007, the BCA will have hiring report cards for Division I women's basketball and Division I athletic directors.

The best news in the College Racial and Gender Report Card was for Division I men's college basketball coaches; we no longer even notice if an African-American coach is hired or fired. Colleges have simply been hiring the best people for those positions and now, for the first time, more than one-fourth of the men's head coaches are African-American.

As we look across the spectrum in college sport in Divisions I, II and III, we see that while there is improvement, there is a long way to go. NCAA President Myles Brand continues to emphasize the need for more opportunity for people of color and women in coaching and athletic department positions.

In Division III, you might feel sport is more pure and opportunity greater. Perhaps the most telling statistic in this year's College Racial and Gender Report Card is that for both head and assistant coaches in Division III, there are more women coaching men's teams than there are African-Americans. The percentage of women coaching men's teams in Division II is nearly the same. The Black Coaches Association cannot do a hiring report card in every sport, but I believe that their report in football-hiring practices has made a huge difference and that their new reports will do the same in women's basketball and athletic director positions.

Keith notes that "other tools are necessary."

He says, "There is the possibility of Title VII lawsuits against schools that don't have open hiring practices as well as the implementation of a Rooney Rule in college sport."

The NFL and Major League Baseball have rules mandating that people of color be interviewed for head coaching and managerial positions, respectively. The results have been dramatic in both leagues.

The NCAA might be resisting such a rule since so many seem to think that college member institutions may not support it. It might be that ultimately colleges have to adopt such a rule to do better in future College Racial and Gender Report Cards and, more importantly, in the halls of higher education where we proclaim our support for democratic ideals and equal opportunity for all.

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. The author of 12 books, Lapchick also directs UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of the annual Racial and Gender Report Card, and is the director of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport. He has joined ESPN.com as a regular commentator on issues of diversity in sport.