By Richard Lapchick
Special to Page 2

There was once a time when the Black Coaches Association struck fear in the hearts of athletic directors and the NCAA, when veteran coaches like John Thompson, John Chaney, George Raveling and Nolan Richardson were involved with important issues like standardized testing and coaching opportunities for minorities.

However, a lack of leadership and an embezzlement case involving its former Executive Director led to an erosion of its influence in the late 1990s; many of the power coaches disappeared. An organization which helped bring civil rights into the sports world was becoming inconsequential.

But the Black Coaches Association is back in business. The BCA met in Indianapolis in early June, the third convention under Executive Director Floyd Keith (I am a member of the Board of Directors). Keith, the former football coach at Rhode Island, has restored financial stability while traversing the nation promoting his positive but forthright approach to making things better for coaches and the young people they serve. Long perceived as a vehicle to get jobs for coaches, the BCA has spread out its mission to have its coaches embrace youth at risk.

This convention gave coaches like the Colts' Tony Dungy and Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt the chance to thank their predecessors who were pioneers in making it possible for them to be successful. Raveling, who coached at Southern Cal, Iowa and Washington State, and Vivian Stringer, the current Rutgers women's coach, both eloquently told of a rich history as well as what needs to be done in the years ahead.

That history is important. Before the BCA mounted boycott and protest efforts in the late 1980s, the issue of race was hardly ever discussed within the NCAA or individual athletic departments. Thompson's boycott after the NCAA passed Proposition 42 in 1989 showed what black coaches had to do to make a point and have it stick. Everything came to a head in 1994-95 when so many issues mounted up that the BCA threatened an official boycott in the face of reform efforts by the Presidents Commission and the NCAA. The prospect of intervention by the White House and the Department of Justice led to a settlement between the coaches and the presidents.

The coaches were on the political map with a voice. They fought against the use of standardized tests as part of admission criteria because they believed the tests were unfair to those from impoverished backgrounds. They fought for more coaching opportunities for people of color. They fought for expanded access to reach poor African-American children to show them that there was hope for the future.

Critics of the BCA said the coaches merely wanted to admit basketball players who would not be successful students, but would help the team's success on the court or on the field; that the coaches were being self-serving and merely wanted more access to get recruiting advantages.

We needed the BCA because, like other sectors of our society, people of color rarely see change unless they raise their voices. When Rudy Washington, the former Executive Director, seemed to lose his sense of purpose for the organization and then saw evidence that he improperly used BCA funds, critics had a field day and many older coaches withdrew their support. I was worried that the BCA would never again strike fear for college administrators.

Floyd Keith called me several years ago when he was being considered for the position. I strongly encouraged him to take the position. He helped put together a strong board now headed by Stan Wilcox, Deputy Commissioner of the Big East. I joined the board shortly thereafter and have been able to watch the rebirth of the BCA from the inside.

Not only is it highly organized and financially solvent, but the BCA is once again raising its voice and being heard.

Keith stood side-by-side with attorneys Johnny Cochran and Cyrus Mehri when they announced their report on the lack of coaching opportunities for African-Americans in the NFL along with the implied threat of lawsuits against the NFL. Lawsuits have been the driving force behind Title IX success stories in the last 15 years.

The BCA will hold its 3rd Summit on Equity in Football this August. That will be followed by the publication of its first Football Hiring Report Card, which will grade each of the 28 Division I-A and I-AA colleges that hired a head football coach last year to see whether the schools worked with the BCA to see its list of "capable" candidates, who was on the selection committee, who was interviewed, and how long the search took. The report will be expanded to other sports and to college administrators next year. The BCA is, once again, striking fear in the hearts of athletic directors. Importantly, the BCA is now working closely with NCAA President Myles Brand, who publicly supports the Report Card.

While the BCA supports most of the academic reform efforts undertaken by Dr. Brand, the board remains concerned that some pieces of the well-intentioned legislation might have a negative impact on African-American student-athletes, especially those who play basketball. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, which I direct, annually publishes the graduation rates for the Sweet 16 in the men's and women's basketball tournaments. While we point out that the basketball graduation rates, especially for African-Americans, are far too low, that is too simplistic. African-American male basketball players graduate at a rate of 36 percent. That is a problem, but not as big as the 33 percent graduation rate for African-American male students who are not athletes (25 percent lower than white male students).

The coaches do not want basketball players used as stereotypes when American higher education has failed to welcome African-American students in general onto our campuses, where less than 10 percent of students, faculty and administrators are African-American. We must make our campuses more welcoming places for African-American students in general and not merely for athletes.

A flourishing BCA will help alert us to these inequities while fighting for change. Floyd Keith, who for years blew a whistle to help call plays, is now coaching the coaches to help the fight.

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 10 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 as a regular commentator on issues of diversity in sport.