Back in September, the NCAA produced a diversity pledge urging university presidents, chancellors, and conference commissioners to “specifically commit to establishing initiatives for achieving ethnic and racial diversity, gender equity and inclusion with a focus on hiring practices in intercollegiate athletics.” That’s all well and good but one area that affects athletics from a hiring practice standpoint is academia. Until we see a concerted effort to increase diversity and inclusion in academic leadership positions there will be little change in athletics.
According to a 2015 study published by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, 78.9 percent of presidents at the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision colleges were white men, as were 79.7 percent of athletics directors. About 7 percent of athletics directors were women, and all of them were white. Nearly 90 percent of faculty athletics representatives were white.
This demonstrates a theory known as “Cultural Matching.” Pioneered by Northwestern Kellogg School of Management Professor Lauren Rivera, cultural matching is essentially hiring individuals who have cultural similarities reflected in education, self-presentation styles, hobbies outside of work, and leisure activities.
While this may seem acceptable on the surface, cultural matching from a hiring practice standpoint can create subconscious and implicit biases that disproportionately affect minorities and women. Sort of like a college fraternity or sorority it’s less about your work credentials and more about how you fit in socially. For minorities and women who may not fit this criteria, it creates numerous challenges in the areas of diversity and inclusion. The numbers reflect this phenomenon as the number of white male athletic directors in Division I nearly mirrors the number of white male presidents.
Even though academia and athletics are seen as separate enterprises they are all cogs in the university experience. They function in a symbiotic relationship where one affects the other. Presidents hire athletic directors. Athletic directors hire coaches and senior staff. From a hiring practice standpoint, the President sets the tone. If the theory of cultural matching reigns true we will not see major changes until more minorities and women are hired in presidential and senior leadership positions on the academic side of campus. We first must train our leaders to understand these biases are real while simultaneously bringing in diverse individuals that can bring in a different point of view during the interview process.
In order to solve the diversity issue in athletics, it has to be addressed through the entire academic enterprise. With higher education being grounded in the ideals of democracy and social responsibility, schools are uniquely positioned to drive change. University life in some ways is a microcosm of society and can accurately reflect the issues going on outside of the academy. Until we have more individuals like Elson Floyd, Bernadette Gray Little, Ruth Simmons, and Renu Khator we will not see more diversity within college athletics.
Ronnie Burton Jr., is an emerging professional within collegiate athletics and higher education. Prior to writing for CollegeAD Ronnie worked in administrative and coaching positions at California Lutheran University, Arizona State, and Michigan State. A 2015 graduate of Arizona State’s Masters in Sports Law and Business Program he looks to be an asset for organizations making decisions in the areas of regulation and revenue generation. A former college baseball player, Ronnie’s passions reside at the intersection of higher education and athletics.
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