Perspective: Increase Diversity Among Division I College Football Coaches

There is no question that Blacks have made tremendous progress on the field and on the sidelines. But Blacks and other people of color are still not major participants in the money side of college sports. Players, of course, do not get paid, but those in the higher echelons of college sports certainly do. And those faces remain, even today, almost exclusively White. How can this picture be changed? One answer is the implementation of a Rooney Rule at the collegiate level. This is a proven mechanism to increase the hiring of underrepresented people both inside and outside the sports business.

My thoughts are about the dollars, the demographics and efforts to add greater numbers of people of color to top-level positions in college sports. Sure, there is one top-level African-American official at the NCAA, and there are some minority athletic directors, college presidents and head coaches sprinkled here and there around the collegiate landscape. But the numbers are not representative of minority participation levels. They should be. It’s not just about playing; it’s about participating in the economics.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise; there is a lot of money in collegiate sports. We just witnessed the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which brings in millions of dollars annually. NCAA President Mark Emmert was recently on PBS’ “Frontline” and sheepishly refused to disclose his salary. When questions emerge about financial decisions at NCAA-member institutions, the conversations go pretty rapidly to the lack of profitable programs. But those conversations should be steered back to the bowl games, the NCAA tournament, the salaries of NCAA officials and the salaries paid to coaches

In the midst of this onslaught of cash, if you follow the money, including all that room, board, tuition and educational fees, the student-athletes, many of whom are people of color, come out on the short end. For example, University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban pulls in just under $6 million in salary annually. I have no problem with that; everyone should make as much as they can. I am just looking for more African-Americans to be in that mix. How do we improve the economic participation of African-Americans in college sports?

The real money at the collegiate level largely goes to the college presidents and head coaches like Saban. There has been an increase in the number of African-Americans in both positions over the past few years, and that should be acknowledged. But the numbers are still dismal. In a survey completed by the University of Central Florida, only five of the 120 college presidents in the Football Bowl Subdivision were Black. Increasing the number of African-American college presidents is complex on multiple levels. However, as for increasing the number of head coaches in football there is a proven elegant solution: the Rooney Rule.

Instituted in 2003 by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the rule mandates that a minority must be included in each head coaching search pool. Since then, the number of minorities in NFL head coaching and front office management positions has increased.

The NCAA and its member institutions have cited every reason possible for not adopting the Rooney Rule. The excuses focus on perceived legal issues with forcing public institutions to look at a more diverse slate than those traditionally presented to the president, provost or athletic director. The issues are certainly complex, but the application of a Rooney Rule molded for individual institutions within their own legal frameworks is doable. It would just take focused work and the desire to implement a form of the rule. The same should be done with conference commissioners and athletic directors. The beauty of the Rooney Rule is that it forces no hiring. The rule focuses solely on broadening the pool of candidates that is traditionally brought in for these positions.

There is progress and hope. There are now 16 minority head coaches among the 120 FBS schools. This is up from eight in 2008. But there is so much farther to go and a much deeper level of economic participation that should be taking place. The Rooney Rule is a path worthy of serious exploration, not one to be dismissed as too difficult to implement. D

— Kenneth L. Shropshire is the David W. Hauck Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Faculty Director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative.