Monday, December 15, 2008

Who's Ready for Some Football?

I'm not well-versed enough in college football to know if this is fair analysis by the LGM crowd. But I do know that the lack of Black coaches in D-I football is a long-standing problem, and one the NCAA has bent over backwards to avoid correcting. LGM's story is about the coaching moves by Auburn University, which just fired Tommy Tuberville after a disappointing 5-7 2008 season. Tuberville, prior to that, had gone 42-9 over the past four seasons. Still, college football is tough business -- a bad season at a football crazy school like Auburn can give you the yank. Okay, they ask, but why does Auburn choose to hire Gene Chizik (last two seasons: 5-19 at Iowa State) over Turner Gill (13-12 in his last two years at Buffalo -- but this a school that went 2-10 his first year and whom he just lead to a first-ever MAC championship and first bowl appearance in school history)? College football in general, and deep south schools like Auburn in particular, are infected with good ol' boy networks, and Gill is Black. (In fairness to southern schools, Gill also was passed over for a head coaching job by Syracuse, who elected to hire someone who had never been a head coach before at all).

Richard Lapchick, writing for ESPN, argues for college football to institute its equivalent of the "Rooney Rule", requiring colleges with open coaching positions to at least interview one candidate of color. Lapchick names his version of the rule the "Robinson Rule", after former Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson, at one point the winningnest coach in college football history who nevertheless was never even offered an interview with a Division I-A program (Grambling State is D-I-AA). It wouldn't have helped Gill, as he was interviewed and ignored in favor of candidates which, on face at least, seem to have far weaker credentials. But with the number of Black head coaches in D-I football actually falling dramatically over the past decade or so, something needs to be done.

Harold Wasserman wonders about the Title VII and 14th Amendment considerations in all this. To my untutored eye, this is United Steelworkers of America v. Weber all over again, right up to Justice Blackmun and Judge Wisdom's analogy to walking a "high tightrope without a net beneath them." The NCAA's hiring practices are so sharply slanted against Black coaches as to invite a Title VII challenge (which apparently is being considered), but some of the more stringent interpretations of equal protection and anti-discrimination would prevent the organization from taking the fairest and most practicable options available to start remedying the disparity.

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