NCAA leaders get poor marks for diverse hiring practices

UNLV Director of Athletics Desiree Reed-Francois is one of the few recent hires of note in a position of leadership in college athletics. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In a nation divided along so many lines, I look to our educational leaders to bring us together with unifying words and actions. Unfortunately, there is not much hope coming from The 2018 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.

Leadership in collegiate athletics at the top level received an overall D, as it is still dominated by white men. It got a C for racial hiring practices and an F for gender hiring practices. A student in any of these institutions of higher education would either be expelled or put on probation with this record.

The positions examined at the 130 institutions that compete in FBS football were president, athletic director, faculty athletics representative and conference commissioner. The results were juxtaposed with the 60 percent of football student-athletes who are players of color.

Leadership roles on campuses including athletics across the country remain overwhelmingly white and male with little action being taken to change this fact. According to the 2018-19 report from TIDES, 85.4 percent of our presidents, 84.6 percent of our athletic directors and 85.3 percent of faculty athletics representatives were white and 100 percent of our conference commissioners were white. In those positions, 73.1, 76.9, and 56.6 and 90 percent were white men, respectively. We need actions and not more words of encouragement that things will get better.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the founder and president of the Rainbow Push Coalition, said, "In 2018, we are facing an epidemic of injustice, in an increasingly toxic political climate, navigating through major challenges to our nation's future and progress. All that we have fought for, including affirmative action and equality for women and minorities, are under attack and being undermined at every level. Hence, the lack of progress within the hiring practices in college sport, a multi-billion dollar industry, are both disturbing and discouraging. I applaud my friend Dr. Richard Lapchick and his team for consistently raising these issues, which remind us that the work of civil rights is not done, even in an area like college athletics where diversity and inclusion should be the norm."

To go deeper into the report's findings, hiring for campus presidents received an C in race and an F in gender, hiring for athletic directors received a C-plus in race and an F in gender, and the record for appointing faculty athletics representatives at FBS schools received C grades for both race and gender.

Delise O'Meally, executive director of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice, commented on the lack of diversity among conference commissioners that, "It is striking that the leadership of the Power 5 conferences remains 100 percent white and male. These positions wield the most power and influence in the collegiate game and impact a vibrantly diverse student-athlete population, particularly in the sports of football and basketball. The time has come for deliberate and intentional action to diversify the pipelines within the conference structure to ensure greater representation of other voices at this level."

Arne Duncan, a former Secretary of Education, shared that, "The 2018 report shows that the appalling lack of diversity among the leaders at FBS schools results in the continuing lack of diversity in FBS football coaching ranks. Where is the institutional commitment to diversity? With 19 head coaches of color at the 130 FBS schools, what does this say to the nearly 55 percent of the FBS football players who are African-American and 60 percent who are players of color?"

In spite of the terrible overall figures, there were a few signs of progress this year. Four more women were hired to serve in athletic director roles. This followed the 2017 hiring of Desiree Reed-Francois as the University of Nevada-Las Vegas' athletic director and Carla Williams as Virginia's athletic director. They were the first Latina and African-American women, respectively, chosen to lead an FBS athletics department. Also the report findings showed slight increases in campus leadership positions held by people of color and by women to be 14.6 percent compared to last year's 13.4 percentage, and 19.5 percent women compared to 17.7 percent last year. Despite the improvement, those remain woeful percentages.

For now, I strongly believe that it is of critical importance for the NCAA to institute the "Eddie Robinson Rule," a change I have been an advocated for more than a decade. It would be patterned after the NFL's Rooney Rule. Jackson amplified this, "Although the college football field is dominated by people of color, we are seeing no progress in Life Beyond the Playing Field. There is no excuse for the NCAA to not have a more aggressive, intentional and inclusionary plan, similar to the 'Rooney Rule' in the NFL, that would allow qualified minority candidates to compete for and be accepted into more roles of leadership in higher education. There are also some very obvious opportunities that could be considered 'low hanging fruit' which are not presently being taken advantage of. For instance, each year dozens of NFL players retire from the playing field and could very easily transition into coaching positions, especially at their alma mater, in their home state or in the region that they played in. Most college coaching staffs have up to 30 members just among their on-field group alone, not to mention those who work in player development, specialized services or in the Athletic Department. Therefore, addressing this underrepresentation must become a priority, and Rainbow PUSH Sports is committed to working with the NCAA, Dr. Lapchick and others to bring about change and keep hope alive in sports on and off the field."

The NCAA adopted the Pledge and Commitment to Promoting Diversity and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics in September 2016. In the two years that followed, 862 schools and 102 conferences have signed the pledge. However, only 14.6 percent of campus leadership positions in athletics were held by people of color and just 19.5 percent were held by women. The pledge is not working. Duncan, who now chairs the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, added "The NCAA should mandate that each institution should publish the racial and gender diversity of their athletic department staff and coaches so recruits are better informed about who is recruiting them. The NCAA's pledge needs action to back it."

Professional sports leagues and teams are far ahead of college sport in their hiring practices. It is time for college athletics to use actions and not lofty but ineffective words to change who we ask our student-athletes to follow.

Miranda Murphy made significant contributions to this column.

Richard E. Lapchick is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program 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 and on Facebook.