Where diversity in college sport hits a brick wall

Fifth in an occasional series

Longtime columnist William C. Rhoden has written on The Undefeated.com about the “blinding Whiteness in virtually every sector” of college sport, including key leadership and other essential positions, calling it the “diversity conundrum.” MSR’s multi-part series expands on Rhoden’s observation. This week: a “diversity brick wall” for Blacks.


The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) proposed several years ago that college athletics adopt “the Eddie Robinson rule,” based on the NFL’s Rooney Rule requiring that teams interview at least one Black candidate for head coaching openings. A “Judy Sweet” rule was also suggested for all senior NCAA headquarters and Division I athletic department administrative positions.

However, it was recently reported that NCAA President Mark Emmert said that neither he nor the college sport governing organization can force its member schools to be more diverse.

“That’s been his position for quite some time,” TIDES Director Richard Lapchick said of Emmert. He talked to the MSR last week prior to his release of the 2017 Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) Leadership College Racial and Gender Report Card (RGRC).

Richard Lapchick (MSR file photo)

Apparently the 2016 NCAA Pledge and Commitment to Promoting Diversity and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics, which currently bears signatures from 838 schools, including the University of Minnesota and 102 collegiate conferences, was for show purposes only. (You can read the pledge as well as the 2017 College Sport RGRC at www.tidesport.org.)

Sadly, it’s the same old story: the “consistent underrepresentation of women and people of color” in top athletics positions, as Lapchick wrote on this year’s failing grades — a D-plus in racial hiring and an F in gender hiring. With grades like these “a student in any of these institutions of higher education would either be expelled or put on probation,” and the bad grades “reflect a stagnation of movement and the continued dominance of White men in the leadership roles affecting who is hired in college sport,” he said.

We asked former Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi, who attended a sports industry panel at the Gophers football stadium last week, to comment on the NCAA president’s stance. “The NCAA membership is the ones who make the rules,” he pointed out. “I think institutions have always felt that certain things should be their responsibility on their campus.”

During his Gopher tenure, Maturi and this “diversity beat” reporter often discussed diversity.  “Like I said when we first met,” Maturi continued, “keep asking and keep talking about it. We have to create an awareness in the minds of those people who are making [hiring] decisions [so they are thinking,] ‘I better be sensitive to this. The only way I can get away from such criticism is to act.’”

It’s often said in corporate America that a glass ceiling exists for women and people of color that keeps them from advancement. But in athletics, a brick wall exists as well that keeps Blacks from even getting in, let alone advancing.

Sheu Oduniyi, a first generation Nigerian with a social science bachelor’s degree and an MBA in sports and athletics administration, “did the things I didn’t want to do in order to do the things I wanted to do” as a basketball operations intern for an NBA club for a season while he pursued his master’s.

“I haven’t gotten an opportunity” for a full-time position with a pro or college club, Oduniyi told me. I suggested his name to a Lynx official when a position opened up this summer with the team, but according to Oduniyi nothing came of it.

“I haven’t given up,” said the young man.

“I would hope there is not a brick wall,” said Maturi.

“I’d say he’s fighting against history and against the odds,” said Lapchick.


Next in the series: Four local team leaders talk about diversity and other challenges


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.