An NCAA committee this week declined to vote on or recommend two policies that broaden opportunities for minority candidates to interview for high-profile jobs in college athletics.
On Tuesday, the NCAA’s committee to promote cultural diversity and equity (CPCDE) discussed both Oregon’s Rooney Rule and the Bill Russell Rule, which require at least one qualified minority candidate to be interviewed for head-coaching and administrative positions. Oregon’s Rooney Rule, a state law since Jan. 1, 2010, requires state schools to interview at least one qualified minority candidate for all head coach and athletic director openings. The Russell Rule, adopted in August by the West Coast Conference, requires all member institutions “to include a member of a traditionally underrepresented community in the pool of final candidates for every athletic director, senior administrator, head coach and full-time assistant coach position.”
In a statement to ESPN, the NCAA said the CPCDE applauds the WCC, endorses the Russell Rule and will “continue conversations with conference commissioners in support of the rule.” But the committee did not recommend either policy to the NCAA board of governors for potential implementation, either with hires in the NCAA’s national office or with its member institutions.
“The NCAA is a voluntary association with public and private members who are subject to different state laws,” the statement read in part. “Thus, the NCAA cannot mandate the individual hiring practices of colleges and universities or campus employment practices. As a result, employment decisions are made at the individual campus level.”
Sam Sachs, founder of The No Hate Zone and an advocate for both policies, said NCAA president Mark Emmert told him in an email that the CPCDE would review both policies and possibly recommend them to the NCAA’s board. In an Aug. 10 letter obtained by ESPN, Emmert wrote that the NCAA’s governance process “may not move as quickly as some would like,” but that other initiatives had been successful, such as the NCAA changing its policy to ban events in states where the Confederate flag is flown.
“We know the Association and its members have more work to do around racial justice and fostering inclusive environments,” Emmert wrote to Sachs. “I look forward to our continuous engagement in this meaningful work to ensure an equitable and inclusive environment for all.”
Sachs on Friday told ESPN he was extremely disappointed in the NCAA’s inaction this week.
“Emmert led me down this path, told me what to do, encouraged me what to do, and it’s a complete and utter failure,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been played. I don’t feel the NCAA really values diversity and equity. Now what? Either stop talking about what you’re going to do or do it.”
Sachs described the NCAA as “a white supremacy structure that’s unwilling to give up its power.”
He said the NCAA told him a legal opinion from its counsel prevented a vote or potential implementation of Oregon’s Rooney Rule or the Russell Rule.
The Rooney Rule has faced no legal challenges in Oregon, where it has been implemented both for college athletics and, under a different designation, for city of Portland administrators.
In 2016, the city of Pittsburgh also adopted the Rooney Rule, named for late Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, for city jobs. The rule also has faced no challenges in Pittsburgh.
“The legal opinion is baseless,” Sachs said. “It holds no weight. It’s an opinion. And the NCAA should use its power and its legal team to fight against any possible legal challenge to move forward, rather than be stalled by a legal opinion that has no basis. The committee to promote diversity and equity is tasked with recommending policy to the board of governors. If they’re not willing to do that, even with their legal opinion, what are they doing? This recommendation can change the complexion and the face and the gender of athletic directors and coaches across the country.”
Sachs said he reached out multiple times to Mark Lombardi, chair of the CPCDE and president of Maryville University in St. Louis, but has not received a response. Lombardi referred ESPN’s request for an interview to the NCAA.
The NCAA in its statement said the board of governors adopted “the Presidential Pledge” to promote better diversity and gender equity and that it continues to discuss other initiatives.
Sachs said it’s not nearly enough.
“We demand that the committee reconsider, reconvene and vote unanimously to recommend the NCAA adopt the Oregon Rooney Rule and Bill Russell Rule model for all schools under their watch immediately,” he said. “It is time for the NCAA to fulfill the broken promises and move their words to action to promote cultural diversity and equity.”