Diversity Rule Goes to College

By Mark Maske
Updated: February 8, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A version of the minority-interviewing rule that was the catalyst for the NFL to diversify its head coaching ranks has been adopted by major college football.

A written policy stipulating that any division I-A football program with a head coaching vacancy will interview at least one minority candidate was sent just more than three weeks ago to athletic directors at the 120 schools.

The two-page document details what it calls “acceptable standards” regarding diversity in interviewing and hiring practices, and was distributed by the Division I-A Athletic Directors’ Association.

The policy does not include a mechanism for punishing a school that does not comply with the requirement.

Officials said the components of the policy previously had been ratified by schools with membership in the athletic directors’ association and were informally in place for the hiring cycle that followed the recently completed season.

“It’s already had a very significant impact,” said Dutch Baughman, executive director of the Division I-A Athletic Directors’ Association. “We wanted to improve the number of legitimate, in-person interviews [involving minority candidates] that took place. We weren’t so much focused on the number of hirings. That will come in time.”

The written policy was sent to athletic directors in mid-January.

The college rule is similar to the minority-hiring rule that exists in the NFL and is widely known as the “Rooney Rule” after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the chairman of the league’s workplace diversity committee.

The college rule differs, however, because it lacks penalties for noncompliance that exist in the NFL and because it was enacted by the athletic directors, not the NCAA or school presidents.

In the NFL, the rule was enacted by team owners, who promised to be personally involved in all head coaching searches to ensure that the policy is followed.

Still, leaders of diversity groups said they regard the issuance of the policy as a step toward diversifying the ranks of college football coaches. Floyd A. Keith, executive director of the Indianapolis-based Black Coaches & Administrators (BCA), said there are currently eight minority head coaches among the 120 division I-A football programs.

The BCA previously called for a minority-interviewing rule to be enacted for college football and threatened legal action over schools’ interviewing and hiring practices. In recent years, it issued annual hiring report cards.

Last year’s version, which graded the coaching searches of 23 division I-A programs and 12 division I-AA programs in the 2006-07 hiring cycle, gave 19 grades of A or B and 12 grades of D or F.

Keith noted the lack of an enforcement mechanism in the new policy but said: “The thing I’m happy about is for the first time, to my knowledge, the athletic directors have taken ownership of the issue. That’s the first time that’s been done. Let’s see how this pans out.”

Baughman said he saw a marked improvement in the number of interviews conducted with minority candidates during the just-completed hiring cycle and hopes more gains will be made with the policy now in writing.

“Of the 17 or 18 searches we just had, most involved one or more interviews” with minority candidates, Baughman said.

The new policy was hailed as progress by representatives of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the group formed to promote diversity in hiring at all levels of the NFL.

“They have set themselves on a course that is changing the practices of the athletic directors going forward,” said Washington lawyer Cyrus Mehri, who serves as counsel to the Fritz Pollard Alliance. “You can go different routes. The colleges are going the ‘best practices’ route.”

“We don’t believe any athletic director who’s worth his or her salt is going to want to do something that’s less than the acceptable standards of the profession. We believe it’s a starting place and it will take quite a bit of time, but we think we will begin to see steady progress.”

The written policy, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, says that “athletics directors interviewing candidates for head football coaching positions should include one or more minority candidates for that position, resulting in a formal interview opportunity.”

“It is prudent to hire from a broad, diverse and growing group of candidates, and to support equal opportunity and fair hiring practices throughout the hiring process. This is not only the position of the association, but most likely in alignment with the hiring policies of the institution.”

It instructs schools to have a diverse list of candidates ready at all times, even when there is no vacancy.

Members of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which is named for the first African American coach in the NFL, met last spring with NCAA President Myles Brand, who directed them to pursue the matter through the athletic directors by meeting with Baughman. “What emerged from that was identifying who in the NCAA structure would take ownership of this kind of issue,” Mehri said.

The NFL owners enacted their minority-interviewing rule by acclamation in December 2002 under the threat of litigation by Mehri and the late lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

At the time, there were two African American head coaches in the league.

There were six this past season, down from seven in 2006.