Old Problem, New Solution?Can programs such as the NCAA’s Leadership Institute for Ethnic Minority Males boost the numbers of Black head coaches, athletic directors?
By Pamela Burdman
Until a month ago, basketball coach Nolan Richardson could have been in line to become one of the few Black athletic directors in the NCAA’s Division I. His boss at the University of Arkansas, Frank Broyles, is expected to step down from the post in three years. And Richardson has attracted a following for leading the Razorbacks to the Final Four three times in the 1990s, including one title-winning season. His friends include former President Bill Clinton.
But in a dispute that is likely to land in a federal court, university officials recently discharged Richardson, paying $3 million to buy him out of his contract. The move came shortly on the heels of controversial comments from Richardson about the difficulties Black coaches face at predominantly White institutions.
University officials deny that Richardson’s remarks had anything to do with their decision. And Richardson critics say that with the rising volume of his complaints and the falling fortunes of his basketball team, he had the dismissal coming. But to his many defenders, the university’s decision to discharge him only proved his point: Black coaches are held to a different standard than their White counterparts.
However the stand-off is resolved, Richardson’s discharge underscores a taint that has been emanating from collegiate athletics for years because of the abysmally low number of coaches and athletic directors who are minorities.
Given the high proportion of African American athletes in many sports, the numbers are all the more arresting. In the high-profile and lucrative sports of men’s football and basketball, Black athletes constitute about one-third of players, but in 1999, throughout the NCAA fewer than 8 percent of athletic directors were Black.
“It is very glaring,” says
Eugene Marshall, athletic director and women’s basketball coach at Ramapo College of New Jersey. “It almost has some people talking about a slave mentality — we can work the ranch, but we can’t run it or own it.”
Some sports have made noticeable improvements. Marshall cites men’s basketball, where African Americans now constitute more than a quarter of head coaches in Division I. But he says promotions into football coaching positions as well as senior administrator positions, such as athletic director and conference commissioner, still are lagging.
‘Work to be Done’
According to NCAA figures, the proportion of athletic directors who are African American actually fell from 7.5 percent in 1995 to 7.1 percent in 1999, dropping more sharply in Division I from 10.1 percent to 7.5 percent. In the same period, Black head coaches rose negligibly from 7.6 percent to 7.8 percent of head coaches of men’s teams.
“There’s work to be done,” says Rochelle Collins, the NCAA’s director of professional development.
With those alarming figures in mind, NCAA officials recently launched a 14-month training program called the Leadership Institute for Ethnic Minority Males. Currently in its first year, the program is providing an intense professional development experience for 21 athletics administrators who aspire to move up the ranks into senior-level positions such as athletic director and conference commissioner.
If committee members and NCAA officials needed any confirmation of their suspicions that Black administrators were facing a glass ceiling, they received it with the applications for the Leadership Institute.
“We assumed that the men applying would be more recently in athletics … two, three, maybe four years in the field,” says Collins of the NCAA. “In our first year, the average number of years in the class is 8.8 years. These are men who’ve been working in athletics for over eight years. It’s letting us know that this training is definitely necessary.”
Robert Collins of Northern Illinois University (no relation to Rochelle Collins) is a case in point. At 54, Collins has been associate athletic director at NIU for 10 years. He entered administration after coaching basketball for 22 years at every level from grade school to high school to college. For many years, his plan was to become a Division I head basketball coach, but as he entered his 40s, he started re-thinking that goal.
“After being a college assistant coach for quite a while and not getting that opportunity… I had to begin to look at my future,” he recalls.
NIU, where he had coached previously, recruited him back from DePauw, and after turning the job down twice, Collins became an associate athletic director. Despite 10 successful years, he has yet to be recruited into an athletic director position at another school.
After attending four weekend-long sessions on issues including personnel management, leadership and administration, finance and fund-raising, and public relations, Collins and his Institute classmates will attend a weeklong intensive workshop in June. All the costs are paid for by the NCAA and the participants’ home institutions.
The sessions were well-received, because many participants say they have little experience in areas such as fund-raising and public speaking. But even more important than the content they are learning, say participants, is the opportunity to build a network.
“It was very strange that when I came to this class of 21 African American males I had never met any one of them before,” Collins says. “It means we never have had a platform or convention or any meeting place where we would have come across each other. And I’ve been in this business 10 years.”
For Demetrius Marlowe, an associate athletic director at Michigan State University, those first moments also were defining ones.
“When we walked in there that first day, (NCAA Executive Director) Ced Dempsey walked into the auditorium and you could see it in his face. I don’t think there had ever been that many Black men in one place in the NCAA building at one time. It set a tone. It created a spirit.”
In various sessions, the participants heard from seasoned athletics administrators, who seemed to reinforce the spirit that had been created.
“It’s a very closed-circuit market,” says Dr.
Vivian Fuller, athletics director at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. “People in athletics have a tendency to recycle each other. Athletics is built on relationships.”
Eugene Smith of Arizona State University, who has held three athletic director positions since 1985, drove home a similar point.
“One of the things I tried to impress upon the young men is that it’s critical when you meet people, you establish some mechanism to stay in touch with them — be it e-mail, phone, or just cards that you periodically write them just to keep your name in front of them,” Smith says.
“I told them you need to read the Wall Street Journal. You need to read the business journals in your community. If you go to a cocktail reception, 90 percent of the people in that room are going to be business people.”
That perspective really stuck, Marlowe says. “They talk about the old boy’s network. It’s almost the same type of deal. Not that we have a secret society, but it’s who you know, who knows what you know. We have some bright, strong and purposeful-minded African American men. And great things can happen when you bring that kind of character together.”
Marlowe, 38, has worked in administration for 12 years, primarily in the area of student academic support. After jobs at Notre Dame, Syracuse and the University of Maryland, he was recruited by Clarence Underwood of Michigan State, one of the few Black athletic directors in the NCAA’s Division I, to an associate position.
Though he plans to spend several more years at Michigan, Marlowe is sure Underwood will encourage him to move into an athletic director position eventually — and he thinks his experience within the Institute will help.
One of the growth areas for African American administrators has been in Marlowe’s field, academic support. But often, say NCAA officials, qualified Black administrators get dead-ended into those positions.
While many have chosen that path — or been recruited into it — as part of a conscious effort to increase the number of Black male role models guiding athletes to succeed academically, that is no excuse for pigeonholing Blacks into those jobs either, NCAA officials say.
“We want the person to have experience in all of the areas, so they can go out and talk to boosters and talk to the community,” Ramapo’s Marshall says.
For the most part, NCAA officials sidestep the question of whether the participants are actually lacking in the leadership skills being taught by the Institute — or whether the real goal of the training is to mollify those who say there are no qualified minority applicants out there, a typical explanation given by university officials to explain why they haven’t hired more minorities.
“There’s a whole book of excuses of why people don’t make it,” says Charles Whitcomb, department chairman of Recreation and Hospitality Management at San Jose State University. “People are not qualified, they’ve not had experience, they’ve not been in the system long enough, they’ve not networked enough, they’ve not had the training, and on and on.”
Whitcomb, until last year, chaired the NCAA’s Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee (MOIC). “There were more excuses out there as to why it was not occurring than strategies as to how we can make it occur,” he says. “The excuses were no longer acceptable to the committee in terms of people being unprepared. If that were true, you would not have historically Black institutions with (Black) people who are administrators.
“We began to look at how do we move to try and change diversity in intercollegiate athletic administration. Let’s not talk about why people are not moving, but how can we create an avenue and a pathway for people to move forward.”
The Institute is not the first effort by the MOIC to diversify the athletics hierarchy. Since 1989, the organization has sponsored two programs for women and minorities. The Indianapolis headquarters houses an internship program for minorities that allows recent grads to gain experience in athletics. According to Rochelle Collins of the NCAA, 88 percent of the interns go on to full-time positions in college sports.
In addition, each year, 16 minorities and 16 women receive $6,000 scholarships to pursue sports-related majors in graduate school.
“The MOIC is like the NAACP,” says Marshall, who succeeded Whitcomb as committee chairman. “We are kind of like the eyes and ears and the conscience of the NCAA … in regards to the treatment of minority and women student-athletes, coaches, and administrators and officials.”
Recognizing that the existing programs weren’t going far enough, the MOIC pushed for the new program. The NCAA is spending $250,000 to fund the Institute. It focuses only on males partly because a sister organization, the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators (NACWAA) has run a similar program for minorities and women since 1995. Now the NCAA is spending an additional $250,000 a year to support the women’s institute as well.
Among participants in the first six years of the women’s program, 52 percent — and 47 percent of the minorities — have advanced into more senior positions, according to Jennifer Alley, executive director of the NACWAA.
Leadership Institute participants expect to get a similar boost in their careers.
“This is one of the best things the NCAA has done for us,” says Robert Collins of NIU. “It’s raised my level of confidence that I feel like I could take over a position right now and be a very effective athletic director.
“I think we’re going to become a select group of individuals who will get a very, very close look when some of these positions are opening up in the next five to 10 years,” Collins adds. “If the opportunity presents itself, it’s probably not only time, but it’s my duty as a minority prepared administrator to go out and become an administrator because we have very few of those.”
Whether Collins gets that opportunity will be a factor not just of his own preparation, but of the commitment universities make to seeking out minority applicants — a fact that everyone connected to the Institute recognizes.
“There hasn’t been a true focus at the institutional levels. It’s important for these issues to be a concern and a priority from the presidents’ perspective,” Rochelle Collins says.
“It’s a funny thing that people can go out and recruit student-athletes of color from around the country. They can track you from the time you’re a junior in high school, but after you graduate and you leave, they somehow can’t locate you when it’s time to be a coach or an administrator,” Marshall says.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com