Rooney Rule in College?

The state of Oregon is on the verge of adopting something like that NFL's Rooney Rule for college athletics. For those not familiar with this, the Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates when making hiring decisions. There is no requirement to actually hire such a candidate. College fans have long debated whether or not such a rule should be in place for collegiate athletics. The debate is especially hot among football fans, as African Americans are underrepresented in college head coaching spots. I'm not exceptionally well educated on the topic, but my understanding is that the NCAA at this point leaves the issue up to the conferences. Therefore, we haven't seen anything like the Rooney Rule in college, as most conferences are reluctant to force their university constituencies to take action on this. However, if Oregon passes this bill, it could lead other states to take notice and consider doing the same thing, especially if the bill is a success.

Personally, I'm a bit ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I do think minority candidates face sometimes insurmountable, tragic difficulties finding jobs in college football. And yes, I think this is certainly the case with the SEC. (Although definitely not so much more than other conferences as they would like to tell you--I'm not singling out the SEC.) You can't tell me that Charlie Strong doesn't have a head coaching job yet because he hasn't proven that he's a capable coach. The problem for Strong is that most of the universities with big time football programs in the region he has ties to are reluctant to hire an African-American head coach and thus alienate legions of fans and boosters that would take issue with having an African American not only coach their team but also be its public face. (And again, I'm not singling out the south here; this applies to other regions as well.) The face issue is very important. You'll notice that there are lots of African-American coaches in basketball. However, the hoops head coach isn't a public figure of the stature of the football coach expect at schools like Kentucky. And you'll also notice that race was always an issue with Tubby Smith among some of the Kentucky contingent. I think that the force of race in hiring decisions is regrettable and would like to see something done that will allow talented coaches like Strong to get a fair shake as they pursue their dream job as the head coach of a major program.

On the other hand, let's be frank here. First of all, this rule only forces teams to interview a minority candidate. They don't have to hire one. In fact, a lot of schools are already doing this as a form of public relations, even when they have no intention of hiring the minority candidate. In sum, this rule may not really do a whole lot other than give the appearance of promoting diversity. (Not to say that's not something that we should be doing.) Second of all, rules like this aren't going to make racism go away. They may, in fact, only exacerbate the problem by angering certain fans and supporters. I'm not sure whether or not I think that scenario is worth the potential gains to be had by instituting rules like this and thus shaking the system a bit. Again, I think the rule may be worthwhile, but I'm still a bit ambivalent. There are certainly problems with it that aren't going to go away easily.

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