By the end of this week, the NCAA may start the process of joining the rest of the country in making history. Nearly a year after American voters elected the nation’s first black president, the association that runs college sports may be poised to select the first black man to run one of the country’s major sports organizations.
The NCAA’s Executive Committee is slated to meet this Thursday at the organization’s headquarters in Indianapolis, and is expected to choose a firm to help in its search to find a successor to Myles Brand, the former president, who died last month.
Among the contenders is Dr. Bernard Franklin, a former president of four schools, most notably Virginia Union. Franklin, who was hired for the NCAA by Brand, currently serves as the organization’s executive vice president for membership and student-athlete affairs.
Franklin’s ascendance would not only zoom the NCAA past the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA in terms of moving an African-American into a chief executive post, but would send a powerful message to university and college presidents, who could desperately use it. (It bears noting that African-American James Frank, of Lincoln University, previously served as the NCAA’s president. However, that title was given to elected officials from individual schools, while the post of executive director went to the full-time chief executive officer.)
You have a much better chance of finding subtlety in a Tyler Perry movie than you do of spotting an African-American football coach or athletic director – often two of the most powerful positions on a college campus – at the nation’s biggest colleges.
Of the 120 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the grouping of the largest colleges and universities in the NCAA, only 15 have minority athletic directors. Worse yet, only nine of those 120 schools have black football coaches. In the Bowl Championship Series conferences – the six biggest leagues in college athletics – only one, Miami of Florida, has a black coach, Randy Shannon.
In one appalling example last winter, Auburn (Ala.) University passed over Turner Gill, the head coach at the University of Buffalo, which won its conference championship last year, for Gene Chizik, who led Iowa State to a 5 -19 mark there in two seasons. Charles Barkley blasted his alma mater, saying race was the “number one factor” in Auburn’s hiring of Chizik over Gill. “You can say it’s not about race, but you can’t compare the two résumés and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst résumé.”
And it’s not as if there isn’t a pool of potential candidates to select from. Roughly half the rosters of big-time football teams are made up of black players, which suggests the schools believe that African-American players are gifted enough to play football at, and make money for, the dear alma mater, but not bright enough to coach there someday.
That’s why the hiring of Bernard Franklin could be so significant. Though the NCAA’s president doesn’t have the same executive powers as those belonging to a professional commissioner like the NFL’s Roger Goodell or David Stern of the NBA, he would command a bully pulpit.
Former NCAA president Brand used his to help craft and enact legislation to hold schools’ feet to the fire of graduating student-athletes. Franklin, by contrast, wouldn’t have to say much, if anything, about the practical and spiritual benefit of hiring black athletic directors or football coaches. His presence alone would speak volumes.