Commentary

The college sports racial and gender report card shows a reversal of progress

Updated: April 6, 2017, 3:49 PM ET
By Richard Lapchick | ESPN.com

March MadnessRobin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

March Madness is one of the most exciting times of the year in college athletics. As the son of a basketball Hall of Famer, for me, the road to the Final Four is always filled with joy. And I was glad that the recent studies published by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) indicated the continued positive progression of graduation success rates and academic progress rates for NCAA Division I men's and women's basketball student-athletes. This is good news for college sports student-athletes.

Coincidentally, we are now publishing the 2016 College Sport Racial and Gender Report Card. For those who care about equity in sport, there is little, if any, good news. Colleges not only remain the worst employer for women and people of color in sport, but things may even be worse than ever. The results are startling.

The annual report card from TIDES reveals that in 2016, college sports received a C-plus for racial hiring practices by earning 78.5 points, a decrease from 83.6 points in the 2015 CSRGRC. College sports received a C for gender hiring practices by earning 73.5 points, down from 78.8 points in the 2015 CSRGRC. The combined grade for the 2016 CSRGRC was a C-plus with 76 points, down from an overall B with 81.2 points in 2015.

This was the lowest combined grade of all the racial and gender report cards. College sports was the only area covered to have below a B for racial hiring practices.

Here are some eye-popping results that raise red flags:

• Opportunities for coaches of color continued to be a significant area of concern in all divisions. For the 2016 season, 86 percent of Division I, 88 percent of Division II and 92 percent of Division III men's coaches were white. On the women's side, white coaches held 85 percent, 88 percent and 92 percent in Divisions I, II and III, respectively.

• In men's Division I basketball, 20.8 percent of all head coaches were African-American, which was down 1.5 percentage points from the 22.3 percent reported in the 2014-15 season. It is down 4.4 percentage points from the all-time high of 25.2 percent reported in the 2005-06 season.

• Only 6.5 percent of Division I head baseball coaches were people of color.

• African-Americans were so underrepresented as head coaches in Division III that the percentage of women coaching men's teams was higher than the percentage of African-Americans coaching men's teams (5.8 percent vs. 4.8 percent).

• More than 60 percent of the women's teams across all three divisions are coached by men! How is that possible 45 years after the passage of Title IX? Women held only 39 percent of the head coaching jobs of women's teams in Division I, 35 percent in Division II and 44 percent in Division III.

• The 2016 report saw 10 women and two people of color as conference commissioners among the 30 conferences in Division I. This indicates some progress for gender hiring in this male-dominated position. However, there was only one woman and no commissioners of color in the FBS.

• The number of head football coaches of color at the FBS level remained at 16 in 2016, the same as in the 2015 report. Nearly 88 percent were white.

• When you combine the divisions, 84, 92 and 95 percent of basketball, football and baseball head coaching positions, respectively, were white.

Val Ackerman is a leading advocate for diversity and inclusion in leadership ranks of sports, and she's also the commissioner of the Big East Conference and was the first president of the WNBA. The report brings to the forefront the importance of "aligning the demographics of the NCAA student-athlete population with who our leaders are," she said. " I hope those in positions of influence will work aggressively to fulfill the promises of the recent Presidential Pledge and reverse what appear to be troubling trends."

In addition to this disappointing data, there is a huge racial disparity between student-athletes and head coaches. For example, of the total male student-athletes in Division I athletics, white men make up 58 percent, compared to Division I white head coaches on men's teams that make up 86 percent. This is further evidence that the NCAA should step in to act on its hiring practices.

The only area covered in the racial and gender report cards that had high grades was the NCAA headquarters. The NCAA earned a B for race in both senior leadership and professional positions and an A-minus and an A-plus for gender in those respective areas. Our athletic departments need to catch up to the NCAA.

Considering these results, now more than ever I believe that the NCAA should institute a change for which I have advocated, the Eddie Robinson rule. In addition to this change, I would also recommend the Judy Sweet rule. The Eddie Robinson rule would initiate opportunity for a diverse pool of candidates for every opening for a men's and women's head-coaching position in Division I. For women's teams, this would include making it mandatory that two-thirds of the candidates interviewed were women. The Judy Sweet rule would require a diverse pool of candidates, including women and people of color, for all senior administrative positions at both the NCAA headquarters and in Division I college athletic departments. At the college level, this would include the athletic director, associate athletic directors, assistant athletic directors and the sports information director.

Former college football coach and executive director of the now-defunct Black Coaches Association, Floyd Keith, said it's "crystal clear" that the Eddie Robinson and Judy Sweet rules are needed to boost equitable hiring in the NCAA and at colleges. "The National Association for Coaching Equity and Development is speaking out, but it's obvious nobody is listening," he said. 

Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow PUSH organization and one of the nation's most enduring civil rights leaders, said that March Madness is great for basketball, but then comes May Sadness with low graduation rates. The CSRGRC shows "the lack of equality and inclusion within the hiring practices of the NCAA," he said. "With the high number of qualified candidates around this country, there should certainly be a greater representation of women and people of color employed at every level within the college ranks.

"If we are dominant at the bottom and don't rise to the top as coaches and GMs, we have gone from picking cotton balls to basketballs -- it's just not acceptable."

On the brighter side, I was very happy and inspired to witness Dawn Staley become the second African-American women's basketball head coach to win an NCAA championship. I believe this victory will be a catalyst to help improve the opportunities for people of color as head coaches in college basketball and sports as a whole. After Georgetown's John Thompson became the first black coach to win in 1984, opportunities for other black coaches opened up, and college sports went from less than 10 percent to the all-time high of 25.2 percent reported in 2005-06.

It should be pointed out that TIDES has officially changed the grading scale for the first time in the nearly 20 years of the report card because of America's changing demographics. The result is that the 2016 grades for the 2016 College Racial and Gender Report have been calculated at a higher standard than in previous reports. But that was not the reason for the persistence of the poor record of college sports in hiring more women and people of color in key positions.

Hopefully with all the coaching changes that usually follow the end of a season, Staley's championship will open the eyes of athletic directors across the nation as they decide who comes next.

Richard E. Lapchick is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management graduate program in the College of Business Administration at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick also directs UCF's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, is the author of 16 books and the annual racial and gender report card, and is the president of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports. He has been a regular commentator for ESPN.com on issues of diversity in sport. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick and on Facebook. Todd Currie and Destini Orr contributed to this column.

Richard Lapchick

Contributing Writer, ESPN.com

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