Until a month ago, basketball coach Nolan Richardson could have been in line to become one of the few Black athletic directors in the NCAA's Division I. His boss at the University of Arkansas, Frank Broyles, is expected to step down from the post in three years. And Richardson has attracted a following for leading the Razorbacks to the Final Four three times in the 1990s, including one title-winning season. His friends include former President Bill Clinton.
But in a dispute that is likely to land in a federal court, university officials recently discharged Richardson, paying $3 million to buy him out of his contract. The move came shortly on the heels of controversial comments from Richardson about the difficulties Black coaches face at predominantly White institutions.
University officials deny that Richardson's remarks had anything to do with their decision. And Richardson critics say that with the rising volume of his complaints and the falling fortunes of his basketball team, he had the dismissal coming. But to his many defenders, the university's decision to discharge him only proved his point: Black coaches are held to a different standard than their White counter parts.
However the stand-off is resolved, Richardson's discharge underscores a taint that has been emanating from collegiate athletics for years because of the abysmally low number of coaches and athletic directors who are minorities.
Given the high proportion of African American athletes in many sports, the numbers are all the more arresting. In the high-profile and lucrative sports of men's football and basketball, Black athletes constitute about one-third of players, but in 1999, throughout the NCAA fewer than 8 percent of athletic directors were Black.
"It is very glaring," says Eugene Marshall, athletic director and women's basketball coach at Ramapo College of New Jersey. "It almost has some people talking about a slave mentality -- we can work the ranch, but we can't run it or own it."
Some sports have made noticeable improvements. Marshall cites men's basketball, where African Americans now constitute more than a quarter of head coaches in Division I. But he says promotions into football coaching positions as well as senior administrator positions, such as athletic director and conference commissioner, still are lagging.
`WORK TO BE DONE'
According to NCAA figures, the proportion of athletic directors who are African American actually fell from 7.5 percent in 1995 to 7.1 percent in 1999, dropping more sharply in Division I from 10.1 percent to 7.5 percent. In the same period, Black head coaches rose negligibly from 7.6 percent to 7.8 percent of head coaches of men's teams.
"There's work to be done," says Rochelle Collins, the NCAA's director of professional development.
With those alarming figures in mind, NCAA officials recently launched a 14-month training program called the Leadership Institute for Ethnic Minority Males. Currently in its first year, the program is providing an intense professional development experience for 21 athletics administrators who aspire to move up the ranks into senior-level positions such as athletic director and conference commissioner.
If committee members and NCAA officials needed any confirmation of their suspicions that Black administrators were facing a glass ceiling, they received it with the applications for the Leadership Institute.
"We assumed that the men applying would be more recently in athletics ... two, three, maybe four years in the field," says Collins of the NCAA. "In our first year, the average number of years in the class is 8.8 years. These are men who've been working in athletics for over eight years. It's letting us know that this training is definitely necessary."
Robert Collins of Northern Illinois University (no relation to Rochelle Collins) is a case in point. At 54, Collins has been associate athletic director at NIU for 10 years. …