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College sports’ racial, gender hiring practices getting worse instead of improving

College sports' racial, gender hiring practices getting worse instead of improving

Editor’s note: Richard Lapchick is a human rights activist, pioneer for racial equality, expert on sports issues, scholar and author.

March might signal the time when college sports looks to be at its best. With March Madness under way for both men’s and women’s basketball, the excitement is palpable.

That is why we are releasing today the 2022 College Sport Racial and Gender Report Card, which is produced by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida (UCF). While college sport certainly shines on the courts and playing fields, it has a long way to go to match that excellence in its hiring practices. So many fans root for the underdog in a game, but university leaders continue to go with the long standing power structure: white men. Women and people of color are too often on the sidelines.

College sports received a C for racial hiring practices when it decreased slightly from 75.1% in 2021 to 73.3% in 2022. College sports also received a C for gender hiring, with 74.1%, which was a slight increase from 2021 when it was 72.8%. The combined grade was a C with 73.7%. That was down from 74.0% in 2021. In other words, overall, equal opportunity hiring practices are getting worse instead of improving.

As we look at the sidelines in the tournament, we see the best record for hiring of people of color and women as head coaches. But the coaches of color represent a fraction of the student-athletes on their teams. In 2021-22, Division I men’s basketball Black student-athletes made up 52.4% of the total, compared to the 24.8% of Black head coaches. We have a smaller percentage of Black head basketball coaches now than we had 17 years ago, when 25.2% of the Division I head basketball coaches were Black.

“The imbalance between campus leadership and student-athletes has been and is a major concern,” Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education who now chairs the Knight Commission, told me. “The disparity certainly does not reflect the stated commitments of those institutions to diversity, equity and inclusion. For collegiate athletics to thrive and grow, leaders of these institutions must embrace diversity and inclusion at a higher level. Our coaches should better reflect those student-athletes who play for them.”

In 2021-22, white people still dominated the head coaching positions, holding 84.1%, 85.2% and 89.0% of the positions within men’s sports in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively. Opportunities for Black head coaches continued to be poor in 2021-22. Black head coaches held 9.9%, 6.7% and 6.3% of the men’s head coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively.

In 2021-22, women held 42.0% of head coaching positions at the Division I level for women’s sports, while they held only 4.9% of the head coaching positions at the Division I level for men’s sports. In Division II, women comprised 35.6% of the head coaches of women’s teams. At the Division III level, women held 43.8% of all head coaches for women’s teams. Overall, women held 40.5% of the head coaching positions for women’s sports for all three divisions combined. While some categories did increase slightly, they are all reflective of how far women must go to achieve equality under Title IX more than five decades after its adoption.

Looking at women’s teams, white people held 80.6%, 84.5% and 88.1% of the head coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively. Black head coaches held 10.2%, 6.4% and 6.3% of the women’s head coaching positions in Divisions I, II and III, respectively.

“Reflecting on this TIDES report card, and our own extensive research, the intersection of gender and race exposes the greatest disparities,” said Danette Leighton, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “Leadership positions on and off the field of play should reflect the vast diversity of our country and those playing the game. This report series shines a light on the changes needed to reach true equity in coaching, the front office, the boardroom and beyond.”

Among the reasons for this overwhelming number of white people and men is who controls the position of athletics director. In 2021-22, excluding HBCUs, white people held 78.6%, 90.4% and 89.4% of the athletics director positions in Divisions I, II and II, respectively. Black athletic directors in each division, they held 14.3%, 5.7%, and 7.2% of the athletics director positions in Divisions I, II and II, respectively. That was a slight increase in each division for Black Ads.

The percent of women athletics directors in Division I slightly increased, from 14.0% to 15.0% in 2021-2022. Women continued to remain very underrepresented in the athletics director position. It was better in Divisions II and III, where women held 25.0% and 33.0% of the AD positions, respectively. Among the women who are Ads, white women made up 10.7%, 22.9% and 28.5% of the positions. Black women held 2.1%, 1.4% and 3.6% of the AD positions in Divisions I, II and III, respectively.

But as one can see, as you go to Divisions II and III, opportunities for Blacks ADs get slimmer. This is also reflected on men’s and women’s teams. On the other hand, opportunities for women as athletics directors increase in Divisions II and III, respectively.

While the opportunities for women increased as you went below Division I, they decreased for people of color in general.

“In the aftermath of the so-called 2020 racial reckoning, we were told that change was inevitable regarding the leveling of the playing field for coaches and AD’s in college athletics,” said Dr. Jeff O’Brien, the CEO of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. “The data in this Racial and Gender Report Card make clear that this change has not occurred. The abysmal percentages of women and people of color in head coach and athletic director roles provide us with the tip of the iceberg. The real story lies beneath the surface, in the darkness, where systemic racism and sexism thrive and ensure the status quo is maintained. But, bemoaning this dynamic or promising to do better in the future are not adequate. A true reckoning, with clear expectations and consequences, is required if we intend to manifest an equitable tomorrow.”

In 2021-22 there were nine women and seven people of color as conference commissioners in all of Division I out of 30 conferences, excluding the HBCU conferences. However, in the FBS there remained only one woman serving as commissioner and two commissioners of color out of 10 conferences. The appointment of two Black FBS commissioners three years ago marked a significant breakthrough. However, in January 2023, the Chicago Bears hired Kevin Warren as their president after he had been commissioner of the Big Ten. Gloria Nevarez became the first woman of color to head an FBS conference when she was named commissioner of the Mountain West Conference in November 2022.

At the NCAA national office, the total percentage of women serving in full-time staff positions was 54.5%, down slightly from 54.6%. For senior leadership, women held 41.2% and people of color represented 23.5%. Women held 57.9% of the professional administrative positions. People of color held 25.5% of the professional administrative positions.

The percentages of people of color in the positions of executive vice president, senior vice president and vice president decreased from last year’s report at 31.6% to 23.5%. However, women in those positions increased in 2021, from 36.8% to 41.2%, respectively. The four people of color to hold these positions were Black.

The percentage of executives at the managing director/director positions who were people of color was 25.0% in 2022, an increase of 4.3 percentage points from 2021.

While the NCAA national office does significantly better than college sports overall, even it has a long way to go to be in a position where women and people of color share the leadership.

We need help to change this. As O’Brien pointed out, the hopes for change emanating from the racial reckoning with heightened awareness so far have not hastened change. But I believe that athlete activism taking aim at the hiring practices would be a real catalyst. I have been suggesting that they could pressure corporate partners to pressure the universities.

After seeing the results in the first year of the Russell Rule (named after the legendary Bill Russell), I am even more convinced that we need what I have been calling the (Eddie) Robinson and (Judy) Sweet Rules. The Robinson and Sweet Rule(s) would, if adopted, make all openings for senior positions as well as coaching positions require at least two diverse candidates in the final selection process. The Russell Rule called for one diverse candidate and in its first year more than half of the senior openings in the West Coast Conference were filled either by a woman or a person of color. I don’t care what we call the rule, but university leaders need to be required to have diverse pools of candidates.

Those seeking change can join me and other leaders like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and director of Rainbow PUSH, and must hit harder to resurrect the momentum created by the racial reckoning.<,/p>

“I am always so excited to watch all of the amazing drama on the court during March Madness,” Jackson said. “This is the annual showcase of tremendous talent in NCAA basketball, and a way to highlight dozens of colleges where lives are being shaped for the future.”

Jackson said the report card “again raises a concerning reality that ethnic minorities in the coaching ranks represent a small fraction of the student-athletes we see on the court. With so many players of color on the court, one would be hopeful to see more people of color working off the court. An intentional plan to increase minority leadership in those various institutions of higher learning is critical to ensure that equity and equality is present throughout management, administration as well as coaching in the college ranks.”

Jackson said Rainbow PUSH Sports would take an aggressive approach to addressing this issue by creating sports career fairs throughout the year, inviting sports professionals and decision makers to interact with student-athletes, college students and career seekers to develop more pipelines while providing exposure and meaningful connections. He said during this year’s men’s Final Four, the group will be present to engage the NCAA, while also supporting the 2nd Annual HBCU All Star game that weekend in Houston.

Said Jackson: “There has never been a talent deficit, but an opportunity and exposure deficit that perpetuates these unfortunate issues in hiring. I feel it’s my duty to ensure that we can bring both sides together to improve the game and fill March Madness with even more GLADNESS.”

This is a time when our voices need to be amplified and our messages for diversity, equity and inclusion to become operating principles in our athletic departments and at the NCAA headquarters.

Richard E. Lapchick is the Director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida. He is the author of 17 books and the annual Racial and Gender Report Card and is the President of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook.

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