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NSIA Looks to Diversify Intercollegiate Sports

A­fter all of these years, Sean T. Frazier is still disturbed by the numbers.

Frazier is one of 14 Black athletic directors in the 130 Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).

“Sometimes I feel like a damn endangered species,” says Frazier, who is the associate vice president and director of athletics at Northern Illinois University (NIU).

Now, more than ever, Frazier says that institutions have to do a better job recruiting a diverse group of individuals to work in intercollegiate athletics.

“It’s disheartening,” says Frazier, who adds that that there has been little progress in diversifying the field over the past two decades.

Sean T. FrazierSean T. Frazier

That lack of progress is one of the reasons why he has endorsed the National Study of Intercollegiate Athletics (NSIA) which officially launched last month to a national audience, eight years a­fter NSIA was founded in 2011 and piloted in 2014.

The mission of the organization is quite simple: to generate an empirical understanding of the organizational culture of the more than 13,000 professionals currently working in intercollegiate athletics.

Doing so, will help institutions move the needle and attract talented people of color to their athletics department, says Frazier, who served for many years as deputy athletic director at the University of Wisconsin Madison, before accepting the job at NIU in 2013.

NSIA, which is supported by the Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei Lab) and the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association (MOAA), is intended to promote best-in-class hiring practices and identify unique aspects of organizational culture that positively or negatively affect the experiences of athletic department personnel.

Understanding this phenomenon, should help NCAA athletic departments improve staff recruitment and retention, says NSIA leaders, who argue that the initiative provides actionable data and insights to help inform institutional hiring places, guide staff development and improve staff experiences.

Industry experts praised the new initiative.

“Intercollegiate athletic departments in today’s climate are challenged with winning at all cost by hiring the best coaches, trainers and recruiting elite student athletes,” says Dr. Marc Williams, Esports/Sports Marketing professor at the University of Houston. “More than ever, athletic departments are equally challenges to hire the most diverse, high performing staff that addresses issues of inclusion, discrimination and develop a holistic approach to creating a healthy organizational climate.”

Williams says that NSIA’s services come at a perfect time. He says that intercollegiate athletics have been forced to deal with controversial issues such as hiring practices, discrimination, diversity and inclusion.

Dr. Richard LapchickDr. Richard Lapchick

“In the past, these areas were once swept under the rug, and now have to be addressed in order for schools to have great overall success,” he says. “An organization’s success begins at the top. When the athletic director embodies values associated with excellence, fairness and equality, the employee engagement will be positive,” notes Williams, adding that such a culture will inevitably reduce employee turnover and improve the overall reputation of the athletic department.

Still, the challenge is getting universities to admit that they have a problem.

“No one wants to open up their books and admit that they have challenges,” says Frazier. “But if it walks like a duck, talk like a duck, it might just be a duck.”

Frazier says that NSIA examines both individual and institutional factors that impact intercollegiate athletics by collecting, analyzing, and reporting micro-and macro-level survey data, which is gathered from participating individuals institutions and from national data sources.

“The NSIA is a positive way for institutions to take a look at themselves and evaluate what progress they are making towards diversity and inclusion,” says Stan Johnson, the executive director of MOAA, a nonprofit formed in 2000 to advocate for increased participation for minorities in athletics.

The annual report cards produced by Dr. Richard Lapchick, director and founder of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) is evidenced that a change is needed, says Frazier, who has known and worked with Lapchick for years.

According to Frazier, a data-driven analysis about the dearth in hiring is long overdue, particularly when one considers that college sports has become a big business.

As the industry continues to grow, it is not surprising that “increased attention has been placed on industry hiring practices and the experiences of intercollegiate athletics professionals,” says Dr. Jerlando F.L. Jackson who heads up the NSIA and also serves as the director and chief research scientist of the WEI laboratory and also holds the Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Dr. Jerlando F. L. JacksonDr. Jerlando F. L. Jackson

NSIA exists to provide an empirical understanding of the reality of intercollegiate athletics professionals, insight into the hiring practices surrounding some of the most sought-after jobs in the country and provide institutions with actionable insights that can improve institutional culture and ensure organizational excellence, says Jackson, who taught Frazier when he was enrolled in a graduate program at UW-Madison.

“NSIA represents a model of how researchers and practitioners can work together to improve practice,” says Jackson. “In this case, this partnership allows us to gather the best available data to pair with strategic leadership vision to improve hiring, workplace experience, and climate.”

Jackson says that NSIA is just another option for colleges and universities who are serious about diversifying their workplaces, noting that during Phase I of the process, NSIA focuses on senior-level administrator searches, athletic administrator hiring practices and workplace climate issues.

“The NSIA tool gives an institution an excellent opportunity to be better prepared to capitalize on all the positive things that diversity and inclusion has to offer,” says Frazier.

Jackson says that athletic administrators and other institutional representatives can participate in the NSIA Career Trajectories and Workplace Inventory, Senior-Level Administrator (Pre/ Post) Search Inventories, Athletic Administrator Hiring Practices Inventory by logging on to the website at

For institutions that participate, NSIA leaders point out that results are only published in a summary format. No individual department or respondent will be identified in any of the reports. Participating athletic departments will, however, be provided data-based reports but identities and personal information related to participating individuals or institutions will not be shared or made public.

This article appears in the April 4, 2019 edition of Diverse.

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