In December, I wrote a column calling for a civil rights movement in college football. It focused on the small percentage of African-Americans and other coaches of color among the 119 Bowl Subdivision schools in football, relative to the 46 percent of college football players who are African-American.
The call was for a series of dramatic changes, including legal action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and informing student-athletes of the graduation rates and hiring records of each athletic department in the country to help those student-athletes make decisions about which college to attend. A lynchpin of that call was to implement an "Eddie Robinson Rule," which would require that minority candidates be interviewed for head football coach openings. I know the NCAA has opposed this because it thinks its membership will not support it.
The state of Oregon now looks poised to pass a statewide law that would mandate this. The proposed law would require that athletic departments interview minorities for all head coaching jobs in all sports and for athletic director positions. The bill has been strongly supported by the Black Coaches & Administrators and its leader, executive director Floyd Keith, who testified with me in front of Congress in the spring of 2008 to support the adoption of an Eddie Robinson rule in college football. NCAA president Myles Brand was there, too, and testified that NCAA membership would not support the idea.
The person most responsible for the bill in Oregon is Sam Sachs, who was an undergraduate student in the Black Studies program at Portland State University and now works with Portland's Police Academy on diversity issues. He was at Portland State when the Vikings hired Jerry Glanville as their head football coach in February 2007, and says the school didn't give meaningful consideration to other candidates, including minorities. Sachs has worked tirelessly with Mitch Greenlick, a state representative from Portland. Greenlick eventually introduced House Bill 3118 as a plan strictly for football coaches in the state of Oregon. A House committee, however, extended its reach to all sports and athletic directors, creating a comprehensive piece of legislation affecting many hiring decisions.
I have been in regular touch with Sachs, and Keith and I testified in the Oregon House when it passed its version of the bill. The bill is now before the state Senate.
"Although I hope Oregon will be the first to make these requirements, it can't be the last," Sachs told me this week. "Other states must follow our lead and do the same thing. We owe it to our coaches, but more importantly our student athletes."
My idea for the Robinson Rule was that it would be enforced by penalties that the NCAA would invoke, such as the ones in its academic reform package, in which schools that persistently drop below the Academic Progress Rating benchmark can lose scholarships.
I have also called on Arne Duncan, the new secretary of education, to get more involved with this issue. Any time the president of the United States has done or said something about sports, it has created a significant discussion. If the White House gets involved after Oregon passes the bill, it would be very meaningful and could move the NCAA to adopt a similar policy. I know Brand well, and fully recognize that he is deeply committed to expanding opportunities for women and people of color on our college campuses. However, the record, as reported in the most recent College Racial and Gender Report Card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is abysmal.
These are some of the disturbing numbers from the Report Card:
" 100 percent of the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conference commissioners are white men.
" Whites dominate the head coaching ranks on men's teams, holding 89 percent, 89 percent and 93 percent of all those positions in Divisions I, II and III, respectively.
" The numbers are similar on women's teams. Whites held 88 percent, 89 percent and 92 percent of all head coaching positions in Divisions I, II and III, respectively.
" Whites held an overwhelming percentage of athletic director positions in all three divisions: 90 percent, 92 percent and 97 percent in Divisions I, II and III, respectively.
The University of Oregon's new athletic director, Mike Bellotti, supports the legislation. The most recent high-profile jobs at the University of Oregon changed hands without a full interview process: Chip Kelly was hired from within to replace Bellotti as the head football coach; Paul Westhead was hired as the women's basketball coach only 10 days after Oregon fired Bev Smith; and Bellotti himself became the athletic director without a full search.
The Oregon legislation should get the attention of the NCAA and, hopefully, the White House and the public. The bill, like the Rooney Rule in the NFL, will require only that minorities be interviewed, not necessarily hired. Those of us involved in these issues have long felt that getting the best candidates in the room will result in the best person being chosen, and often the best person will be a white male. But it is important that universities find out who is available from a full and thorough search of candidates.
It is always possible that bogus, pro forma interviews designed only to satisfy the requirements of the law might take place as a result of this legislation. But it will also provide opportunities for universities to meet and interview candidates who they might not otherwise have considered and who fit the mission of the school.
"The Oregon bill will be the first time a law has been passed to address the issue of the failure of too many colleges to hire women and people of color," Keith said. "It will set a precedent for other states."
I am convinced Keith is correct. This is good legislation for the state of Oregon. But more importantly, the bill, if passed, will put pressure on other states to open their hiring processes.
It is long overdue.
Richard E. Lapchick is the Chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida. The author of 14 books, Lapchick also directs UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of the annual Racial and Gender Report Card, and is the Director of the National Consortium for Academics and Sport. He has joined ESPN.com as a regular commentator on issues of diversity in sport.