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The  Black Coach Syndrome and the Pursuit to Become a College Head Football Coach

Casey A. Kovacic

Abstracted from Casey A. Kovacic, The Real BCS: Black Coach Syndrome and the Pursuit to Become a College Head Football Coach, 36 Southern University Law Review 89 (Fall, 2008)

I truly believe that African Americans "may not have some of the necessities" to effectively manage a team.  Former Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis

In the years since his infamous statement on national television about the abilities of African Americans in sports managerial positions, Al Campanis has been repeatedly proven wrong. Countless racial barriers have been broken as African Americans have coached teams to success in a wide range of sports. Most recently, in February 2007, two African American National Football League ("N.F.L.") head coaches led their teams to compete in the Super Bowl, which is perhaps the most recognized sporting event in the world. Despite increases in minority hiring in many major athletic leagues, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's ("N.C.A.A.") Football Bowl Subdivision ("FBS") has lagged behind. A quick look at the numbers clearly demonstrates that major college football has a problem:

Out of 119 FBS member universities, only three currently employ African Americans as head coaches of their football teams.

*90 Of 197 coaching vacancies since 1996, only twelve have gone to African American coaches.

Among the 414 coaching vacancies in Division I-A/FBS since 1982, only twenty-one African Americans have been hired.

These statistics become even more troubling when considering that minority student athletes make up fifty-three percent of FBS football players, fifty percent of whom are African American.

This article will discuss the possible reasons behind the troubling hiring practices of FBS universities, the need for change, and both traditional and non-traditional remedies that may give minority coaches better access to head coaching jobs. The possibility of Title VII litigation under the disparate impact and disparate treatment theories and possible remedies through developing litigation stemming from "word-of-mouth" recruiting cases will be examined. This article will also compare the situation in college football with that of college basketball and professional football. This discussion will specifically analyze the N.F.L.'s recent implementation of the "Rooney Rule," the dramatic progress in opportunities for minority coaches brought about by this rule, and the effect that a similar rule could have in a college setting.

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Tony Dungy, coach of the 2007 Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts, said after the victory, "[w]hen I was young watching the Super Bowl, I thought about being a player. I never thought about being a coach in the Super Bowl. It never seemed real. I think it will seem real to kids in the future." Although his success has been a bright light for African Americans and other minorities who pursue head football coaching positions, this statement is somewhat troublesome. The sports industry represents a microcosm of society. As Professor Harry Edwards commented, "The first principle of sport sociology is that sport inevitably recapitulates the character, structure, and dynamics of human and institutional relationships within and between societies and the ideological values and sentiments that rationalize and *120 justify those relationships." Watching college football on Saturday afternoons is an American pastime. If the parallels between sports and society are true, consider the effect on minority children who notice that while the majority of the players on the field are African Americans, the coaches on the sidelines and the team executives in the suites are still predominantly white. What message does this send to these children about their imminent future as employees trying to climb the ladder in any business structure? The legal remedies provided for minority coaching candidates that have been the subject of discrimination, as well as the N.C.A.A.'s current efforts to remedy the situation, can provide effective methods for the under represented to break through the ceiling that restrains so many qualified minority candidates.


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