College basketball coaching groups endorse WCC's 'Russell Rule' to diversify hiring

A new rule that aims to diversify the hiring pools in collegiate sports is gaining momentum around the country.

On Wednesday, both the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Women's Basketball Coaches Association endorsed The Russell Rule, the West Coast Conference's new policy that will require the inclusion of one minority candidate on the list of finalists for every top vacancy in the league and asked leagues around the country to adopt it.

With the guidance of Gloria Nevarez, the first Latin American woman and one of the few female commissioners at the Division I level, the WCC unanimously approved the policy, named after NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell, that will require every opening for an athletic director, senior administrator, head coach or full-time assistant coach within the league to include a member of a "traditionally underrepresented community," an initiative inspired by the NFL's Rooney Rule.

"The NABC commends the WCC on this forward-thinking initiative, and encourages other college athletics conferences to adopt similar policies," NABC executive director Craig Robinson said in a statement. "Improving diversity among coaches and administrators in college athletics has long been a shared goal of the NABC and WBCA, and we believe the Russell Rule is a positive step in that direction."

Added Danielle Donehew, the WBCA executive director, in a statement: "The WBCA commends the West Coast Conference presidents and Commissioner Gloria Nevarez on their adoption of the 'Russell Rule.' It is a groundbreaking initiative that member coaches of both the WBCA and NABC believe is a significant step in efforts to promote diversity in the hiring practices within intercollegiate athletics. We hope that all other collegiate conferences follow the WCC's lead."

When the WCC announced the rule earlier this month, Russell said he hoped the rule would boost diversity in college sports.

"It is my hope the West Coast Conference initiative will encourage other leagues and schools to make similar commitments," said Russell, who led WCC member San Francisco to national titles in 1955 and 1956, in the WCC release. "We need to be intentional if we're going to make real change for people of color in leadership positions in college athletics. I'm proud to assist the WCC and Commissioner Nevarez by endorsing this most important initiative."

But the NCAA has been more receptive to pledges regarding diversity than policies. Activist Sam Sachs, who spearheaded the state of Oregon's version of the Rooney Rule, recently sent a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert urging him to compel his members to adopt the diversity hiring policy across collegiate sports.

Emmert cited the landscape of college sports, however, as a possible barrier since hiring practices "are determined at the school level and can vary by state and by a school's public or private status." But he also acknowledged the "work to be done" in college athletics.

"While sports are an incredibly positive force in higher education and our society, we also realize that they are not immune from the systemic racism that exists in our country," Emmert said in his response to Sachs. "We are pleased to see the myriad steps that many schools and conferences have taken in athletics and in the overall university structure to help address racism. Actions like those taken by the West Coast Conference to implement the Russell Rule in their schools' hiring practices are exciting to see. As such, we are eager to continue supporting these and other changes through our governance process."

Emmert said he would forward the request to the NCAA Board of Governors Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity.

Sachs said he was disappointed by Emmert's response. The same pressure the NCAA applied to schools when it said it would not allow states that flew the Confederate flag to host championships could also be used to promote a diversity initiative, he said.

"We're asking them to include one minority candidate," he said.

Earlier this month, Nevarez said she hoped the rule would encourage other conferences to create similar measures. The WCC's makeup of private schools, she said, also proved any league could implement the same rule, which also includes an accountability element with Dr. Richard Lapchick, executive director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, set to generate annual report cards based on the WCC's adherence to the rule.

"I'm particularly passionate about it," Nevarez said. "I also realize the national temperature right now is a window we can't miss."