Is football ready for a woman?
Nearly 20 years ago, Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose was first nominated to be a part of the NCAA men's basketball selection committee. Before she filled out the pages of required paperwork, one thought came to mind.
Was she being nominated based on her qualifications? Or was she being nominated just so the committee could say it considered a woman? No woman had ever served on the committee before, raising these conflicting questions. Perhaps she was given the politically correct answer, but Rose was assured that yes, the committee was quite serious about her.
So she went through the process, hopeful but unsure about what to expect.
In the end, Rose was rejected. Her good friend, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, delivered the news:
"Judy," he said, "I don't think this group is ready for a woman."
Is college football ready for a woman? It has to be, now that Condoleezza Rice is officially a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
Men's basketball has come around -- Rose eventually became the first woman to serve on the committee, beginning with the 2000 tournament. University of Texas at San Antonio athletic director Lynn Hickey and Conference USA associate commissioner Judy MacLeod followed. MacLeod, in fact, just completed her first year on the committee.
But football is a sport played only by men, and coached only by men -- the ultimate example of an old boys' network in the NCAA. Football represents machismo, grit, nastiness, blood and guts. There is no counterpart on the women's side. And for that, women are often dismissed and derided as knowing nothing about the sport.
Former Auburn coach Pat Dye made that perfectly clear last week, when he said about Rice: "All she knows about football is what somebody told her, or what she read in a book, or what she saw on television. To understand football, you've got to play with your hand in the dirt."
That point is conveniently ignored about men who never played football. Former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, also on the football committee, did not play the sport. But his membership has neither been questioned nor debated.
Hickey provides an anecdote that further illustrates this point. A few years ago, she interviewed for another athletic director job. The man leading the search delivered some sobering news.
"He said, 'Lynn, Your résumé's great and you've done a lot of wonderful things but you haven't done anything with football," she said. "I was at a school that didn't have football, but I spent 15 years at Texas A&M. I had been at Kansas State. I told him at the end of the conversation, 'You know what? I'm just going to go build my own football team."
That team, under the direction of former Miami coach Larry Coker, is playing in Year 1 in Conference USA.
Rose also spearheaded the charge to begin football at Charlotte, which began play as an FCS Independent this season. MacLeod previously served as athletic director at Tulsa, one of the more successful programs among the non-automatic qualifiers. Clearly, these women know a little something about football.
They obviously know a lot about basketball, too. All three played the sport and coached the sport. Yet when Rose took her seat on the committee, she heard criticism from prominent basketball coaches, complaining there were not enough knowledgeable people making decisions.
"We were like, 'Who are they talking about?' It doesn't take a rocket scientist to think in all probability they were talking about me," Rose said. "They had people on the basketball committee that have been athletic directors or conference commissioners who have never played the sport of basketball, never coached it. But what makes them more qualified than someone that has -- [like] myself?
"Because sometimes it's a male, they get exemptions from the criticism. Because that's a commissioner, that's an AD at a major program. It's not a female. And I'm not a women's libber. I'm the furthest thing from it. But fair is fair, and I think sometimes people aren't fair in their judgment. You don't have to have played the sport to be knowledgeable."
Rice does not have the NCAA background that Rose, Hickey or MacLeod have, an argument that has been made against her inclusion. Part of the problem is the limited opportunity for women in NCAA football. There are only eight female athletic directors on the FBS level; there are only a handful of female directors of football operations. Administrators for male sports are decidedly male.
"If you look at how we create positions and put women in them, it's generally in one direction," Hickey said. "Very rarely are we giving them opportunities to be advisers, to build buildings, to be the administrators for football. Even as an associate AD, how many women get a chance to do that? To be the senior women's administrator but you're only working with women's sports or you're doing life skills or you're the academic adviser, that's not opening doors for them to get the experience that gives other people confidence that hey, they can do this."
Still, the committee had every opportunity to nominate an acting female athletic director like Debbie Yow at NC State or Sandy Barbour at Cal ahead of Rice. That might have muted or eliminated the initial outcry altogether, while also giving a nod to some of the women who have worked so hard climbing to such positions of power. Choosing Rice over a more established woman in the NCAA is a concern to some.
The committee might have been looking for outside voices to bring another viewpoint into the room, one important aspect at work on the basketball side. Three members come from outside the NCAA structure. Diversity in background brings different viewpoints. The last thing any committee needs is a group of clones thinking the same way. Bad decisions generally follow.
The assumptions that have been made about Rice come from outsiders lacking a true understanding of what happens on an actual committee. Gender plays absolutely no role in how the committee does its job.
Rose, Hickey and MacLeod stressed the importance of teamwork, and the importance of trusting each committee member. They said they never were treated unfairly by the male members on their respective committees. In fact, Rose and the other committee members she served with still get together for dinner every Sunday of Final Four weekend.
As part of their responsibility on the committee, every member spends hours each week doing homework on the teams in each conference they are assigned to study. You better believe watching football will be a job requirement for Rice. It is one for every basketball committee member.
"I have never had my DVR so full with games," MacLeod said. "I am a basketball person. I'm a big fan and I played, but I've never watched that many games in a season. At work, I would find myself in the lunch room asking, 'Did somebody see this particular game?' and usually the answer would be, 'What league are those guys in?'"
Rose called her term on the committee "the best professional experience I ever had. No question. We preach teamwork all the time in the jobs that we do. On that committee, it was teamwork at its best."
MacLeod added: "You can express your opinion, whether the other nine members have another opinion or three feel some way and others feel another way. It's very open. I could vehemently disagree but that's why there are 10 different people that are voting. There is a very strong sense that we're all in this together."
Yow brings up a point that speaks to this, describing Rice as "a skilled and analytical thinker. She is bright, objective and knowledgeable regarding college football and will be a valuable member of the committee."
The naysayers have spoken loudly. Their negativity has earned the headlines. But the truth is, real progress has been made. It took 60 years for a woman to serve on the men's basketball committee.
Football waited no time at all.