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Committee recommends NCAA's board of governors review Russell Rule

An NCAA committee earlier this month voted to endorse a policy designed to increase opportunities for minority candidates seeking high-profile coaching and administrative jobs in college athletics.

The NCAA's committee to promote cultural diversity and equity (CPCDE) met Dec. 3 to discuss the Bill Russell Rule, which was adopted by the West Coast Conference in August. The rule requires at least one qualified minority candidate to be interviewed for head coach, assistant coach and senior administrative positions, including athletic directors.

According to a meeting report obtained by ESPN, the committee recommended that the NCAA's board of governors review the Russell Rule at its next meeting, set for Jan. 13 during the NCAA convention. The CPCDE endorsed the rule in principle and concluded that it will "consider ways to support membership institutions in implementing the rule in compliance with state employment laws and regulations."

The same committee met last month to discuss both the Russell Rule and the Rooney Rule, a similar policy in Oregon that has been a state law for all college head coach and athletic director hires since 2010. The committee took no action on either policy in November, saying the discussions would continue but noting in a statement to ESPN that it could not interfere with state hiring regulations.

"The NCAA is a voluntary association with public and private members who are subject to different state laws," the NCAA's statement in November read in part. "Thus, the NCAA cannot mandate the individual hiring practices of colleges and universities or campus employment practices. As a result, employment decisions are made at the individual campus level."

Sam Sachs, founder of The No Hate Zone and an advocate for both the Russell Rule and Oregon's Rooney Rule, criticized CPCDE's inaction in November but applauded the recent developments.

"This may be the most significant piece of action in recent memory to move the Bill Russell/Oregon Rooney Rule forward to implementation," Sachs told ESPN on Thursday. "For this committee to endorse it. ... We're not there yet, but I think it's the most significant development in the last 10 years. I'm very hopeful that the Board of Governors will do the same thing and find ways to work with institutions to find ways to implement it."

WCC commissioner Gloria Nevarez said University of San Diego president James Harris, who serves on the NCAA Division I Council, will be part of the upcoming board of governors meeting and can share the process from the WCC's perspective.

While Nevarez understands the concerns around hiring regulations, she knows policies like the Russell Rule can be adopted at a widespread level.

"This time feels different to me in college athletics," Nevarez said. "... The Russell Rule is one prong of a lot of different initiatives that got injected with a shot of adrenaline. I certainly think this is something I hope the NCAA can find a way to adopt and support.

"... I do believe that if the commitment is broad enough and if you're willing to try to shoulder it through and find a policy, it's doable."

Sachs added that the experience among Oregon schools and now with the WCC should help with implementing the policy, if adopted for all NCAA members. The WCC presidents unanimously approved the Russell Rule, named after former University of San Francisco star and 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell.

"It should be a no-brainer," Sachs said, "an easy thing to do for schools that have pledged to do the right thing."