A year of brazen social upheaval and demands for racial justice wasn’t enough to rattle the status quo. The Associated Press found the number of Black head coaches in the 130-member Football Bowl Subdivision has dipped from a mere 13 to an even shrimpier 11 heading into the 2021 season.
Based on the urgency of this moment, inaction is no longer an option.
Two men, with Madison ties, were asked to head LEAD1’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group with the goal to produce a white paper with an actionable plan for the 130 schools in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the United States. Those recommendations are now published, serving as a positive influence in the national dialogue on race and equality.
Living legend Sean T. Frazier, former University of Wisconsin deputy athletic director; and Dr. Jerlando F. L. Jackson, director and chief research scientist of Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB), were chosen to help lead working groups alongside some of the country’s best researchers and scholars in this field. The goal is to find actionable recommendations that would in turn create more diverse senior leadership in college sports, especially teams that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in their conferences.
“We’ve got to move the needle forward,” said Frazier, who has produced multiple All-Americans under his watch. “We have to begin moving and increasing and maintaining opportunities for the underrepresented, and in this regard, minorities and women.
“We want to effect change on a national level, not on a local or regional level. That is what’s so significant about LEAD1 and the 130 schools that represent the FBS,” added Frazier, who is a former Alabama football player and is currently the associate vice president and director of athletics at Northern Illinois University.
Black athletes make up half of the players. Throughout American history they are often persecuted and silenced for using their public platforms to advocate for equality and social justice which run contrast to the opinions of dominant white culture. This has deterred players from coming together in force to protest around common causes.
Jackie Robinson, Muhammed Ali and Colin Kaepernick have all used sports as a platform to create change in the past. But something different happened last Memorial Day weekend after a cellphone video went viral after capturing the final desperate minutes of George Floyd’s life. Very few incidents have been filmed so explicitly. Floyd’s death sparked the hotbed of social discontent accumulated over centuries by the system’s endogenous racism.
Consider the limited number of women and people of color serving in positions of power:
• Out of 30 MLB organizations, there is just one team president, zero general managers, five managers/head coaches and 40 percent players of color.
• Correspondingly, the NBA’s 30 teams have 12 team presidents, 10 general managers, nine managers/head coaches and 83 percent players of color.
• The NFL’s 32 franchises have two team presidents, two general managers, four managers/head coaches and 70 percent players of color.
• Finally, the NCAA Football Bowl Series colleges and universities have 30 of 130 athletic directors, 18 of 130 football coaches and 65 percent student-athletes of color.
“Looking at everything that went on with George Floyd and the participation of African Americans in the relevant sports of football and basketball are significant,” Frazier said. “Way over 60 to 70 percent participate, but less than 5 percent represented in leadership roles is a travesty.
“My passion is to make sure that at the end of the day I will not become an endangered species. If I don’t throw the rope back over the fence and help someone else, there won’t be another me. I’m one of only 13 in the country and that’s a shame in this day and age,”
He said the need for bold leadership, action-oriented initiatives and focused inclusivity is a must have for all our institutions moving forward.
While professional and intercollegiate athletics are bringing large-scale attention to issues of societal injustice, the teams and universities that are outwardly supporting these player-driven initiatives are urged to also turn the lens inward and consider their own hiring practices and recruitment methods.
“I’m not personally in athletics, but my experiences have been through my former and current students’ griefs and experiences,” said Jackson, whose responsibilities as director of the Wei LAB include a National Study of Intercollegiate Athletics (NSIA). “I can tell you that that is a very difficult world to navigate. It is above and beyond just your skill sets. You’ve got to be built a particular way. You’ve got to have a certain type of grit and, quite frankly, be comfortable in an environment where few people function with integrity.”
In August 2020, LEAD1 created a working group to explore initiatives to strengthen senior leadership pipelines, expand professional development opportunities, influence legislation that supports underrepresented populations and recommend strategies of accountability. The working group was divided into five subcommittees including: (1) Hiring, Retention, and Advancement; (2) Training, Education, and Mentorships; (3) Strategic Initiatives; (4) Political Initiatives; and (5) Cultural Initiatives.
While the LEAD1 Association’s working group was charged with examining diversity, equity and inclusion issues, the subcommittee’s mission included identifying barriers and potential areas of bias related to selecting ethnic minorities and creating systems where people of color can better understand and prepare themselves with the requisite skills needed to get hired and advance.
Here are 10 actionable recommendations highlighted in the paper to aid in rectifying racial disparities in NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) college sports:
1Entities within NCAA Division I college sports, including the NCAA, College Football Playoff (CFP), and FBS conferences should take greater responsibility, through the use of their platforms and resources, to help rectify racial disparities;
2The enterprise of FBS college sports, whether through head coach, athletic director, or conference commissioner employment contracts, should tether diversity hiring to financial incentives;
3FBS college sports should create a highly selective, year-round, diversity program that can help sponsor more diverse senior-level candidates;
4FBS conferences should each create an annual summit with a concerted effort of exposing entry-level and mid-level people of color to key stakeholders;
5The NCAA should create a national mentorship program, particularly for people of color, given the proliferation of virtual technology;
6Search firms and institutions should seek to follow certain basic principles to help people of color through the search process, and a “scorecard” should be created to grade relevant search firms based on their annual success in presenting a diverse final candidate list to institutions;
7The NCAA should create an added layer of attestation with respect to college sports leaders receiving requisite training related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly with regard to implicit bias;
8The Athletics Diversity and Inclusion Designee (ADID), typically within FBS athletics departments, should also receive the requisite training; and FBS athletic departments should be graded with respect to their training and education programs;
9ADIDs should be given the power to influence and shape policies within the athletic department and across campus, in substantial collaboration with campus administration, including with respect to responding to student-athlete demands; and
10Athletic departments should take recommended measures to further improve diversity, equity, and inclusion on their campuses, particularly regarding cultural issues.
During the several month period of working group meetings, LEAD1 conducted more than 30 calls and committed more than 200 hours to develop its final product. The recommendation, endorsed by the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association, will be provided to all stakeholders in FBS college sports including all conferences, institutions, the NCAA, the College Football Playoff, relevant search firms, and others.
Some notable recommendations include giving the athletics diversity and inclusion designee the power to influence and shape policies across campus; tethering diversity hiring to financial incentives, particularly through employment contracts within the enterprise; and grading relevant search firms based on their annual success in presenting a diverse pool of candidates to institutions.
Frazier came to UW-Madison in 2007 and oversaw day-to-day operations. Most prominently known as the overseer for football and men’s and women’s hockey Frazier said he backs diversity, equity and inclusion.
“These recommendations represent the most passionate, focused and comprehensive athletics diversity, equity and inclusion action items I have ever been involved with,” said Frazier, who has over 30 years in intercollegiate athletics.
Multiple Division I athletic directors have signed a pledge to diversify their hiring pools. The National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association jointly endorsed the West Coast Conference’s pledge. The Collegiate Coaching Diversity Pledge demands that each school create a fair interview process for every candidate.
Key to the LEAD1 mission is influencing how the rules of college sports are enacted and implemented, advocating for the future of college athletics, and providing various services to our member schools. For more information, visit http://www.LEAD1Association.com.