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NCAA reviews members’ diversity practices

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Perhaps because keeping score is an intrinsic part of competitive sports, the NCAA has tracked diversity by the numbers, counting how many ethnic minorities and women work as coaches and athletic directors, particularly at Division I schools.

With the organization taking that singular approach, member colleges and universities have moved the ball on diversity more by inches than entire playing fields.

In Division I, 7 percent of athletic directors are black and about 10 percent are women. On men’s basketball teams, 61 percent of players are black, while 23 percent of head coaches are.

Two years ago, new president Mark Emmert came up with another play for the NCAA’s offense on diversity. Besides collecting statistics, the national office in Indianapolis would promote change in campus culture as a way to increase the diversity of athletic directors, coaches and players.

“If we can change the culture, then we think that the numbers, the increase in representation, will be a direct byproduct of a more inclusive culture,” explained Bernard Franklin, an NCAA executive vice president who is also its chief inclusion officer.

Franklin, a former president of Virginia Union University, oversees a new Inclusion Office that has consolidated the NCAA’s diversity efforts. The combined office brings together staff focused either on ethnic minorities or women, operations that were previously separate.

“We are now probably functioning more as a choir than as soloists,” Franklin said.

So far, the new office has been laying the foundation for changing campus culture by taking soundings from member schools about what they need from the NCAA and about best practices they have in place already. A diversity summit last September attracted more than 175 people to Indianapolis and another 200 to the webcast.

Franklin has been meeting with college presidents and chancellors, who have a say in hiring athletic directors, coaches and athletic conference commissioners. Those top leaders also play a big role in shaping the culture and climate on campuses.

“We are looking at strategies to more effectively engage chancellors and presidents,” Franklin said. “Without them, we are not going to see a change in the landscape that we all desire to see.”

Floyd Keith, executive director of Black Coaches and Administrators (BCA), and a leading critic of hiring patterns at NCAA schools, sees how the new diversity thrust can work — alongside the old one.

“I think it’s noble. If you change the climate, you are eventually going to change the landscape, because people adjust to climate,” Keith said. “But a lot of times it’s hard to measure climate because you have to have something tangible to look at. So I don’t think you can ever get away from numbers.”

The NCAA’s old approach on numbers and new one on culture will come together this summer, when the Inclusion Office holds a roundtable discussion of recruiters from search firms that identify candidates for athletic jobs.

Kimberly Ford, the NCAA’s director of minority inclusion, said the June 27 discussion at a convention of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics in Dallas will examine issues related to hiring minorities and women and “how the NCAA can play a more critical role in that particular process.”

At its own convention next year, the NCAA is collaborating with the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education to present the first diversity award to a member school. From the pile of nominations, the Inclusion Office will cull descriptions of promising practices.

Benjamin D. Reese Jr., president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, said NCAA representatives have approached the organization about “helping them think through, perhaps, a new form and process in rating diversity and inclusion” as part of that certification process.

Reese, who is vice president for institutional equity at Duke University, said the effort now in the planning stage is likely to consider demographics, culture and climate, and “student-athletes’ experience on the campus,” including academics.

Franklin said the Inclusion Office had input into a NCAA policy announced in April that gives historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and schools with limited financial resources an additional year, until 2016-2017, to reach a 50 percent graduation rate for athletes. The policy recognizes that such schools admit underprepared students who otherwise might not go to college.

By adding campus climate and culture to its diversity efforts, the NCAA is essentially conceding its numbers-driven approach has gone only so far in changing hiring practices in athletic departments.

Asked about the effectiveness of the previous approach, Keith referred to the outcomes at Division I schools: “In athletic administration and men’s basketball, the change has been minimal or, even in some areas, it’s gone down.”

Keith did note recent improvement in hiring black coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

“Even though it isn’t where it should be, we don’t flinch anymore when a guy is announced as being the head coach,” he said.

While he sees the potential benefits of changes in campus culture, Keith argued that stronger accountability mechanisms are needed, such as the equivalent of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires minorities to be included in the pool of candidates for head coaching vacancies. In 2009, Oregon adopted a similar state law covering coaching and athletic director vacancies at state universities.