The National Collegiate Athletic Association rolled out a new pledge on Wednesday urging college presidents and chancellors, as well as conference commissioners, to “specifically commit to establishing initiatives for achieving ethnic and racial diversity, gender equity and inclusion with a focus on hiring practices in intercollegiate athletics.” The NCAA will not, however, sanction those who do not honor the commitment.
With white men filling the vast majority of leadership positions in college sports, minority and women’s groups have long asked the NCAA to put pressure on institutions to improve their hiring practices. Those groups largely, if cautiously, praised the creation of the pledge on Wednesday.
“We recognize and value the experiences individuals from diverse backgrounds bring to intercollegiate athletics,” the pledge states. “To that end, we will strive to identify, recruit and interview individuals from diverse backgrounds in an effort to increase their representation and retention as commissioners, athletics directors, coaches and other athletics leadership positions. As part of this commitment we will also engage in a regular diversity, inclusion and equity review to inform campus policy and diversity initiatives.”
As of Wednesday evening, nearly 100 presidents and chancellors had signed the pledge, including 31 from Division I institutions, 33 from Division II and 29 from Division III. Commissioners from 23 athletic conferences had also signed it. Colleges and conferences that sign the pledge will be added to a public listing on the NCAA’s website.
Bernard Franklin, the NCAA’s chief inclusion officer, said the pledge was the first in a series of initiatives the association plans on creating to help colleges address issues related to diversity. The NCAA’s Board of Governors approved the pledge in August, following a presentation by Franklin earlier in the year.
“My presentation made it very clear that we were making very little progress in terms of demographic representation, and in some cases we were actually seeing some decline,” Franklin said. “I think the data were a call to action. We want our members to sign on the dotted line clearly saying that they are committed and that they want to address these issues.”
Fewer than 10 percent of athletics directors are African-American, according to an NCAA survey from 2015, and members of ethnic minority groups make up only 13 percent of leadership positions in athletics administration.
According to a study published in November by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 78.9 percent of presidents at the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision colleges were white men, as were 79.7 percent of athletics directors. About 7 percent of athletics directors were women, and all of them were white. Nearly 90 percent of faculty athletics representatives were white.
More than half of college football players last season were black, but about 88 percent of head football coaches were white.
In the last four decades, the percentage of women’s teams being coached by women has fallen from 90 to 40 percent. The massive drop in the proportion of female coaches happened while the number of female college athletes soared 500 percent, thanks to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Sixty percent of women’s teams are now coached by men. About 3 percent of men’s teams are coached by women.
“This commitment is a huge milestone in our industry’s dedication to a better future,” Patti Phillips, chief executive officer of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, said in a statement. “The pledge acknowledges the importance of diversity in intercollegiate athletics and calls on all college presidents, chancellors and leaders to commit themselves and their respective institutions to create better opportunities for women and people of color in athletics.”
The pledge, which would not extend to presidents and other nonathletics positions, also received praise from the American Council on Education, with the association saying Wednesday that it was giving the initiative its “full support.”
Advocates for Athletic Equity, the group formerly known as the Black Coaches Association, is supportive of the pledge, though Tyrone Lockhart, the group’s chief executive officer, said he is disappointed that there is no way to hold colleges that sign the document accountable.
“Our organization has been involved with this for a long time, and we are hopeful this is a step in the right direction,” Lockhart said. “A pledge really acknowledging that the lack of ethnic minority coaches is a real issue and that we need to do a better job in this area is a positive step. In terms of accountability, it’s not really possible for the NCAA to create some type of Rooney Rule.”
The Rooney Rule, named for the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a National Football League policy that requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other leadership positions. While many would argue that the NFL still has a long way to go in terms of diversity, the rule is credited with improving the league’s hiring of minority coaches and officials. In the 80 years before the rule was adopted in 2003, only seven NFL teams had people of color in head coaching positions. Since 2003, 17 teams have hired an African-American or Latino coach or general manager.
Earlier this year, the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development urged the NCAA to create a similar rule, called the Eddie Robinson Rule, named for the former head coach of Grambling State University. The rule would require “colleges and universities to interview at least one qualified racial and ethnic minority candidate in their final candidate pool for open head coaching and administrative positions.”
Franklin, of the NCAA, said the mix of private and public institutions among the association’s membership and the various state laws that govern colleges make it difficult for the NCAA to adopt any hard rules mandating hiring practices.
But Richard Lapchick, who first proposed the Eddie Robinson Rule and is director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, said that unless the NCAA adopts a rule that carries sanctions, it is unlikely that colleges will change their hiring practices. The NCAA Division I Athletic Directors Association passed a similar resolution in 2008, promising to interview at least one minority candidate for football head coaching positions. Diversity among Division I football coaches has declined since then.
“It’s an idealistic pledge, and it’s definitely good that it’s there,” Lapchick said. “But it doesn’t have any teeth.”