Advocates ask Pac-12 to look at rule to diversify coaching searches

Several influential individuals and groups have asked Pac-12 officials to consider a version of the NFL's Rooney Rule that would, potentially, diversify candidate pools for future job openings.

Sam Sachs, a civil rights advocate and the driving force behind a 2009 law that mimics the rule and requires public universities in Oregon to interview a minority candidate for all head-coaching vacancies, said he's talked to prominent organizations about expanding the Oregon statute throughout the Pac-12 and beyond via the passage of state laws or NCAA/conference policies. Oregon and Oregon State are currently subjected to the provision under state law.

Sachs said the ultimate goal is to create a Rooney Rule -- NFL teams must interview a minority candidate for all head-coaching and senior-level vacancies, according to the 2003 regulation -- in college sports.

In July, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told ESPN.com he would back a Rooney Rule in collegiate athletics.

"I would support it," Scott told ESPN.com, "because I believe in the principle and value."

Sachs would not reveal the details of the Pac-12 discussions or identify the specific groups involved, but he said they're all influential and serious about moving forward.

At the 126 FBS schools, 11 football coaches are black. Nearly 1 in 5 Division I coaches in college basketball's Power 5 leagues is black.

"Over the past several months, I've been in communication with many different groups, organizations and power brokers familiar with 'The Rooney Rule,' to include coaches associations and others, about possible ways to duplicate the Oregon Rooney Rule, whether through the legislative process in other states or [through] the other Pac-12 schools following the lead of Oregon and Oregon State," Sachs told ESPN.com through a statement.

In ESPN.com's offseason poll about diversity in college sports, 65 percent of the Division I minority coaches who responded said the NCAA should create a rule that mimics the Rooney Rule in the NFL.

"Not to have a minority or multiple minorities on your list of potential finalists, that's a sad commentary" said Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade, who also told ESPN.com she would endorse a Rooney Rule in college sports.

This is not the first time a group or individual has promoted a collegiate Rooney Rule. Richard Lapchick, a race scholar who issues annual report cards on diversity in collegiate and professional sports, has pushed an "Eddie Robinson Rule" for years. He and others have faced resistance and logistical challenges because of the public-private landscape in NCAA sports.

Gene Smith, athletic director at Ohio State, said a group of college administrators met with NFL officials about delivering a version of the Rooney Rule to college athletics and learned that they'd encounter major obstacles.

"We went through the process and met with the NFL," Smith said. "There's no way you can get it done in higher education."

The other challenge involves accountability and punitive measures. The Oregon law does not punish schools that do not follow the rule. Oregon State admitted to violating the law in 2013 when it hired a new softball coach without interviewing a minority candidate.

In 2008, members of the Division I-A Athletic Directors' Association agreed to interview a minority candidate for openings in college football. Without any official accountability or penalty, however, the schools have not adhered to that agreement, Smith said.

"It worked for a period of time," he said.

Others worry that a Rooney Rule could establish measures that would not change the culture in athletic departments that lack diversity.

"You have to have decision-makers who are willing to look at a diverse pool because it can be beneficial," said Dan Guerrero, the athletic director at UCLA. "I'm just not sure there are enough doing that."