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For West Coast Conference, ‘Russell Rule’ shows early promise in diversifying athletic departments

Two years ago, America was embroiled in racial and social justice protests, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer. Higher education, like so many other industries, has taken the opportunity to look inward and ask, “How are we doing on racial and gender equity?”

For the West Coast Conference presidents and Commissioner Gloria Nevarez, it was a time that required more than twists and platitudes. It took the will to do better. One area they chose to keep themselves at a higher level was to diversify the hiring of coaches, staff and administrators.

Russell’s Rule was born.

I invited Nevarez and University of San Diego President James T. Harris to join me on my podcast to talk about the recently released data, measuring its effectiveness in matching method to message.

What is Russell’s rule?

“The Russell Rule, named after WCC and NBA legend Bill Russell, requires each member institution’s athletic department and conference office to include a member of a traditionally underrepresented community in the group. of final candidates for each athletic director, senior administrator, head coach and full-time assistant coach.

Harris and Nevarez both explained that it is now a to reign in the conference handbook, not just a “guideline” or “best practice” (as so many rules regarding racial and gender equity have been over the past 30 years).

How it works?

Each year, each athletic director’s office produces a report of their search processes, identifying candidates who advanced to the final group by race and gender for each open full-time position. This data is shared with the WCC presidents at their regular meetings.

As Nevarez described it, “It was no small task because it was a new space for us. However, it’s like monitoring compliance in our organization (for all of our rules) by following our playbook. It There are two exceptions: First, if you don’t do the research (if you’re just raising someone internally), hiring isn’t subject to the “Russell rule. Second, if you have a candidate who satisfies to “Russell’s rule” makes it to the final (round) but then (the candidate) withdraws, all other hires are subject to the hire requirement.

What happens if a school bypasses (or ignores) the requirement and proceeds with a hire without diversifying the final candidate pool? How will the WCC Council of Presidents hold institutions accountable? USD’s Harris explained, “We had this conversation candidly with the presidents, and it wasn’t an ‘old school accident’ and I promise to follow the rule (in the future); (instead) it was what the obstacles were, and can we learn from them”.

Harris continued “we really wanted to spend our first year or two figuring out how do we measure this and how do we hold each other accountable”. At this point, there is “no prescribed sentence”. He hinted at a penalty structure that could include a ‘private warning’, a ‘public reprimand’ but has yet to be implemented as they only have a year’s worth of data on which s ‘to lean on.

Did it work?

It is too early to tell.

The WCC commissioned the 2021 TIDES Racial and Gender Equity Bulletin. Upon posting, SHU’s Harris said, “The newsletter is intended to track the impact of the Russell Rule and progress towards building a more diverse community to support WCC student-athletes. The WCC champions this important effort as part of a holistic and inclusive educational experience for student-athletes.” The survey measured searches from August 1, 2020 to July 31, 2021.

The conference has had the greatest success in hiring assistant coaches. At least half of the candidates from member institutions who qualified for the final stages came from underrepresented communities. A total of 135 applicants from underrepresented communities were included in the final applicant pools of the conference’s 84 searches.

The trend on these campuses is to After diverse teams, no less. President Harris spoke specifically on this point, saying “it just creates a better learning environment when you have people who have all these different backgrounds…we’re really serious about diversification and change faces of our sports departments”.

NBA legend Bill Russell added his support for the Division I conference’s commitment, saying, “I hope the West Coast Conference initiative encourages other leagues and schools. to make similar commitments. We have to be intentional if we want to bring about real change for people of color in leadership positions in college athletics. »

Nevarez, Harris and the other presidents ask additional questions about the hiring pipeline in Division I athletic departments. They want to know: Where do the typical candidates come from? How are they expanding the pool to include non-traditional candidates?

What’s particularly unique is their parallel focus on women coaching men’s teams, as the WCC attempts to address both gender and race. They ask: how can more women be there to coach men’s teams? How do you include more people of color in sports that have traditionally attracted mostly white men?

These are important questions for all of higher education. More data needs to be collected; more education and accountability must be offered on how a final pool of candidates is selected. The bigger question will come when it comes time to hold an institution accountable for breaking the rule – what will it do?

In January, I wrote about the mid-major Division I conferences that “differentiate” each other: “Dig deeper into the definition of fairness. Whether it’s gender or race, many track and field programs prioritize one or two teams that get the bulk of resources and marketing attention, known as “tiers.” Can your conference be a leader when it comes to creating equitable experiences and opportunities for all coaches and student-athletes? If so, what might that look like? Conferences that create distinct cultures will attract and retain great people, and that’s a major key to long-term success.

The West Coast Conference is placing a stake in the ground that could send a powerful signal to employees and athletes who want to be part of an environment that embraces this ethos, one that says “we ALL matter.”

Happy June 10!

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Post expires at 3:41am on Thursday June 30th, 2022