Feb. 28, 2007
WASHINGTON (AP) - 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 parties.
"When African-American coaches do well, we're delighted," Jackson told a House subcommittee. "Only the ignorant are surprised."
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 black.
"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 Fritz 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."