Lack of black coaches lamented at hearing

2/28/2007 - College Football

WASHINGTON -- The lack of black head coaches in college
football was lamented in powerful language Wednesday by the Rev.
Jesse Jackson, NCAA president Myles Brand and congressmen from both

"When African-American coaches do well, we're delighted,"
Jackson told a House subcommittee. "Only the ignorant are

Amid the strong words, however, the solution could lay in a
subtle threat uttered near the end of the hearing. Perhaps, the
point was made, the time has come to make Title VII do for black
coaches what Title IX did for women's sports.

"I think it's pretty clear that embarrassment hasn't been
enough," said Richard Lapchick, director of the Florida-based
Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. "One of the things
we're thinking about is Title VII lawsuits."

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it illegal for
employers to discriminate on the basis of race.

The criticism of the colleges comes after a Super Bowl in which
both teams were led by black coaches: Tony Dungy of the
Indianapolis Colts and Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears. The NFL
has made significant strides in hiring black coaches in recent
years following the implementation of the "Rooney Rule," which
forces any team seeking a coach to interview at least one minority.

But at the college level, there are staggeringly few blacks in
charge. Of the 119 Division I-A schools, only six have black head
football coaches. There are even fewer in the lower divisions: five
in Division I-AA, two in Division II and one in Division III. The
figures exclude historically black colleges.

In addition, there are only 12 black athletic directors in
Division I-A, and not a single major conference commissioner is

"Sadly, if the pace of progress remains the same, it will be
approximately 80 years before we reach a percentage [of coaches]
that even approximates the number of African-Americans in the
general population," Brand told the House Subcommittee on
Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. "This is not only
unacceptable, this is unconscionably wrong."

The NCAA lacks the power to tell its schools whom to hire -- or
even whom to interview -- so Brand has sought to influence them in
other ways. The Black Coaches Association's annual report card on
minority hiring has added some transparency to the process, and the
NCAA has set up academies for potential coaches.

But those measures haven't been enough to break through the
network that picks a new coach. The president, athletic director,
search committee, board of trustees and deep-pocketed boosters all
seem to have a voice, and often they like to play it safe by hiring
established coaches. Changing such a culture is difficult, but
Brand doesn't think the NCAA needs is its own Rooney Rule to do so.

"I think we have all the tools in place," Brand said. "What
we don't have is talented, superb African-American coaches brought
into the informal networks of athletic directors and others who are
making the final recommendations. We need to find a way to open up
that closed circle."

Kansas State athletic director Tim Weiser, who hired a black
coach two years ago, suggested giving financial incentives to
schools who hire minorities, but several witnesses went in the
other direction, saying the force of law is needed to tear down
racial barriers.

"History has proven that in order for any significant progress
to be made in eradicating a social injustice, legal action has been
the catalyst for change," said Floyd Keith, president of the Black
Coaches Association.

Change could come in dramatic fashion if Lapchick and Keith
succeed with their plans to file a Title VII lawsuit, which
Lapchick said could happen in a year or so. They are looking for
the right case, one backed by a discriminated coach willing to take
a stand.

The Title IX lawsuits decades ago revolutionized women's sports,
and it was the threat of a lawsuit from Johnnie Cochran and Cyrus
Mehri several years ago that prompted the NFL to institute the
Rooney Rule.

"We have to put something in place," said Fitz Hill,
president of Arkansas Baptist College and a former assistant at the
University at Arkansas. "Title VII, Title IX, something has to
mandate that we move forward to a game plan that will ensure equity
for all coaches."

Dungy and Smith were mentioned many times during the hearing,
with several people voicing concern that Smith remains the
lowest-paid coach in the NFL. Smith's talks with the Bears on a new
contract have reached a stalemate.

"They need to show Lovie some love," said Illinois Democrat
Bobby Rush, the subcommittee chairman and a Bears fan, "and get
the contract done."