The RaHooligan: Black Coaches Deserve Fair Shot
An aberration? Probably. Will the admissions office take measures to better convince black students that Harvard is where they want to be? Definitely. We’re lucky, because here in the wealthiest, most prestigious university in the country, the debate is over—diversity is important, desirable and necessary.
Unfortunately, most of the country is not so fortunate. As higher education is increasingly sought out, the same ugly debates that transpired in the late 1960s and ‘70s—affirmative action, race-conscious admissions, standardized testing—are back on campuses nationwide, and threatening to subsume some of the top university systems, including the largest, the University of California.
I’m not inclined to talk about the issues that are already in the limelight, but rather about a new battle that has emerged—that of minority hiring for collegiate athletic coaching jobs.
Yesterday in Indianapolis, the Black Coaches Association, which has long been pushing for more opportunities for minority coaches, announced that it would begin an initiative to steer recruits away from institutions that do not improve their minority hiring procedures.
“Do you encourage them to play where they can’t coach?” BCA director Floyd Keith said Monday to USA Today, which recently ran a fantastic series on black coaches in college football.
The BCA’s plan to encourage athletic departments to look at minorities when hiring by attempting to hurt them where they’ll notice—in recruiting, and presumably, on the field—may seem like a misguided scheme (indeed, it was concocted by prominent attorney Johnnie Cochran, not the most rational guy in the world), but I think it may get deaf university administrations to pay attention.
The number of black coaches in the major sports, especially football, is abysmally small. Currently, there are only four black coaches out of 117 Division I football programs, the most prominent being Tyrone Willingham of Notre Dame, though even he was only hired after the Fighting Irish’s first choice, the white George O’Leary, had to quit due to biographical discrepancies. Even sadder, there are very few black coaches in the pipeline: blacks in prominent assistant coaching positions.
Why is this a bad thing? Because it has become increasingly clear that the reason there are so few black coaches in college football is due to college administrations, not a scarcity of qualified, able coaches. In the USA Today series, several athletic directors of prominent institutions (mostly southern) admitted that when they had a recent vacancy, a minority was not even on the list of candidates. The reason: to preserve alumni giving.
Obviously, if the budget’s bottom line is the reason for only looking at white coaches, the BCA is right in focusing on economic, not moral persuasion. For one thing, moral persuasion is not very foolproof. It might result instead in a situation where lip service is paid to minority hiring (putting a token black candidate on a list of candidates, for example). To go after a college, any college, you’ve got to aim right for the pocketbook.
In truth, many students, black, white or otherwise, could not attend the university they do, even state universities, without some type of athletic scholarship. However, this affects black students even more, especially in prominent, revenue-generating sports like football.
If the BCA starts sending letters or e-mails to black recruits telling them that “School X” is unfriendly to minority coaches, whereas another school on the recruits’ list, “School Y”, has been known to give minorities a fair shot in hiring, and has in fact hired black coaches, there stands the possibility that dozens of athletic recruits could avoid School X.
Competitive Division I football and basketball programs cannot compete without black athletes. More importantly, stubbornly refusing to change outdated hiring practices for the sole reason of “worry over alumni giving” will be washed away when said football team starts winning. I’m not saying that white coaches can’t recruit black athletes, or vice versa. It’s just that if a school has to wear a “Scarlet R” for racist, not only will the quality of its athletic program diminish, but also the quality of life on campus.
Of course, it is sad that major universities where hundreds if not thousands of black students attend school have not broken out of a racist, mid-century mindset. It is sadder yet that the BCA has to resort to such pressure to get schools to change their ways, when it is usually the other way around—universities changing society.
But many of the best minds, the best thinkers, the best motivators in college football history have been black, and if they are being shut out of the upper echelons of administration, especially head coaching, another generation of black athletes will feel the door slamming on them as well.
—Staff writer Rahul Rohatgi can be reached at email@example.com