New coalition seeks greater diversity in sports leadership

Sean Frazier
Photo courtesy NIU

Sports Odds & Ends

College sports is going through a time of unprecedented changes. A new constitution was ratified earlier this year that could serve as the beginning of restricting the NCAA. Its president, Mark Emmert, last week unexpectedly announced his retirement.

Emmert’s news came on the heels of a new coalition of three organizations formed to increase dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues in NCAA college sports. The LEAD1 Association (LEAD1), the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association (MOAA), and the Black AD Alliance make up the new but unnamed coalition. 

LEAD1 represents the athletics directors of the 130 FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) schools. MOAA was formed over two decades ago to push for more diversity in college athletic administration. The Black AD Alliance was started in 2020 to advocate for the welfare of Black players and create more opportunities for Division I Black athletic administrators.

“The coalition itself is made up with thought leaders that have been doing this work for many years,” Northern Illinois VP/AD Sean Frazier said in an MSR phone interview last week. “This is a time for us to come together and be very strategic and transparent and intentional about moving the agenda.”

“We have a significant number of ethnic racial minorities and women that participate in our very high-visibility sports of football, men’s and women’s basketball,” said Frazier. “But if you look at the numbers, we still are struggling with representation at the leadership level.”

Frazier is among the nearly 60 Black Division I athletic directors. The 2021 Complete Sport Racial and Gender Report Card released in April shows 12.2% of all DI athletic directors are Black.

Hired by NIU in 2013 after six years in senior leadership roles at University of Wisconsin, including deputy AD (2011-13), Frazier has 25 years of overall experience as a director of athletics at all three NCAA division levels. “I like to believe that I know a little something,” he joked, “but I’ve had some success. But again, I don’t want to be a footnote. I would hope that there’s going to be others that have an opportunity.”

Frazier co-chaired LEAD1’s DEI Working Group that in January produced a white paper that called for more intentionality on DEI issues in college sports. The paper, “an actionable plan for FBS college sports to help create more opportunities for people of color,” included 10 recommendations. 

It recommends that schools and conferences “take greater responsibility…to help rectify racial disparities”; align diversity hiring to financial incentives; create a year-round, diversity program for more diverse senior-level candidates; hold an annual summit to connect entry-level and mid-level POC to key stakeholders; create a national mentorship program; and require implicit bias training for all athletic departments and sports leaders. 

The NIU AD added that how schools conduct their diversity hiring processes are not often reported. “I do think that there should be some transparency and process about how you ended with this search and it was X,” noted Frazier.

“There are a large number of qualified people that are just looking for access and opportunity,” he said. “The question is, how do we get there? One would argue that intentionality has to be played in this particular space. 

“I’d be glad to be a part of the solution as well as a part of a conversation. I know the bigger picture. The bigger play is to get more people who are underrepresented in these decision-making chairs,” concluded Frazier.  

“This is a great time and a critical time for change.”