BCA: Hiring Process Better

By Off the BASN Sports Wire
Updated: October 21, 2004

We’re going to take a moment to talk about — shush — race.

Not too loud. You can discuss it only in hushed tones because rigid stances are taken at the mere mention of the word. And for those who keep a running total of the times a black columnist supposedly plays the race card — according to exit polling from newspaper boxes, this is the 78th straight column into which I’ve injected race– reading between the lines for any hidden meaning isn’t necessary here.

We’re going to talk about the continued dearth of black head coaches in college football.

We’re going to talk about the glass ceiling blocking advancement in far too many pockets in this country.

And we’re going to talk about an unabashed advocate for change taking a refreshingly realistic approach.

The Black Coaches’ Association’s minority hiring report card, released Wednesday, shouldn’t be dismissed. There were 28 head coaching openings at the top two levels of college football (Divisions I-A and I-AA) following last season, and only one was filled by a minority candidate — Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom became the Southeastern Conference’s first black head football coach. There are fewer black head coaches today in Division I-A (five) then there were seven years ago (eight).

Yet the BCA’s findings cited some degree of progress, grading 17 of the 28 schools with an A or B, which BCA executive director Floyd Keith categorized as “positive.”

But how can 17 schools grade high if only one hired a minority head coach?

It’s because the BCA looked at this the right way, focusing on the process rather than the result. It’s not about taking people by the hand and walking them through the door. It’s about improving access to the door and allowing those qualified to succeed or fail on their own merits.

“One out of 28? We’re not happy about that,” Keith said. “But we established this grading system, and its criteria to improve education and increase awareness about what remains a serious disparity. And I believe that the research shows that the pace is starting to quicken. We want to bring balance to this issue and not just talking rhetoric.”

Eastern Michigan was one of the eight schools that received an A grade.

“We evaluated the process, not the outcome,” said Dr. C. Keith Harrison, a former University of Michigan professor who oversaw the review through his Paul Robeson Center for Academic and Athletic Prowess. “This isn’t a quota mechanism. We theorize that over a period of time, if institutions continue to follow the process and the criteria we’ve established, quite naturally we’ll see more coaches of color — Latinos, Asians and African-Americans. And we believe that this grading system allows for more public scrutiny and thus more accountability. And that’s always a positive.”

The BCA graded the schools on the basis of five criteria:

• Communication: How often did the schools contact the BCA for information on minority candidates?

• Committee: How diverse is the search committee looking for worthy candidates?

• Candidates: How diverse is the pool of candidates granted official interviews?

• Reasonable time: Did the universities allow sufficient time to properly consider as many candidates as possible?

• Affirmative action: Were the university’s diversity policies followed in this hiring process?

The BCA is wisely taking the dialogue beyond convenient bluster. It understands that nobody can legislate compatibility and, bottom line, that’s how athletic directors and university presidents justify their hiring decisions. You don’t tick off the money, and appeasing the narrow focus of influential alumni donors often wields significant impact, as well.

And no criteria can quantify the possibility of tokenism in the interview process for the sake of getting the BCA off its back.

But what this grading system does is empower the backbone of the game — the athletes themselves — providing them with data that could influence their recruiting decisions.

“It’s not going to go away,” said Keith about the ongoing discussion. “It’s not going to get swept under the rug. We’re not satisfied with the numbers (of minority hires). It’s unacceptable. But that 60 percent of the schools that we researched scored well using our criteria suggests that we’re headed in the right direction in developing a more accessible process.”

Before you get to the finish line, you first have to find a way to start the race.

Oops, I mentioned that word again, didn’t I?