BCA may take its fight for black coaches to court

Updated: December 18, 2008, 6:18 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Floyd Keith is tired of waiting for more black coaches to be hired to lead major college football programs and is hoping to make a federal case out of the issue.

After years of attempting to persuade university administrators into hiring minority football coaches, the executive director of the Black Coaches and Administrators has started searching for a potential lawsuit.

Last week, the BCA opened a national telephone hotline that offers legal advice to coaches, a move that could eventually lead to a landmark case against universities under civil rights legislation.

"I think someone is going to get tired of listening to the excuses," Keith told The Associated Press. "We're giving them (the coaches) every opportunity, but we can't select the individuals. The individuals have to bring this forward. We are looking very strongly at every case, and we're taking it on an individual basis."

Keith and others consider the number of minority coaches in college football an outright disgrace.

Yes, Keith acknowledges, more black coaches have been granted interviews in recent years, but when compared to the number of minority coaches in college basketball or the NFL, college football lags far behind.

A year ago, Keith estimated 23 to 26 percent of college basketball coaches were minorities, while college football is now down to four blacks among the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, or 3.4 percent. By comparison, nearly one-fourth of the NFL's 32 teams (seven) have minority head coaches and the only black coach hired during this recent round comings and goings has been Mike Locksley at New Mexico.

So Keith, who implemented the BCA's annual hiring report card and for years has threatened to use the court system, is now actively seeking information from coaches. Everette L. Scott, who practices law in Philadelphia and New Jersey and is a former linebacker at Howard University, offers legal advice.

The intent of the hotline is to be informative and educational, but Scott said he's already taken some calls -- he wouldn't provide names or numbers -- from coaches whose situations raise questions about violations under the federal Civil Rights Act.

"What you typically look for are facts that might be a violation of that category," Scott said. "I think, from what we've gotten, there are some questionable facts, some questionable cases in regards to Title VII."

Finding a strong case isn't enough. Scott, as any lawyer, would rather pursue an open-and-shut case -- though attorneys wouldn't dare use that term.

Another problem: The potential ramifications for anyone who does file suit.

"Let's be honest," Keith said. "When someone decides to follow that course, their chances of having employment are diminished."

Keith and Scott compare it to the case of Curt Flood, the former baseball player who refused a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1969 and took his case to the courts. Flood sat out the entire 1970 season and played just 13 more games in 1971 before retiring.

Some contend Flood then became a baseball pariah despite a resume that included two world titles, seven Gold Gloves and a career batting average of .293. Yet his legal fight helped open the door to free agency.

And if Keith and Scott can find the right person to make a case against a university, they believe things could finally change for minority football coaches, too.

Keith has some strong advocates.

The NCAA has worked closely with the BCA in trying to find a remedy, creating coaching academies and even adding the position of vice president for diversity and inclusion. But NCAA President Myles Brand does not believe the governing body can implement a college version of the "Rooney Rule," the NFL's standard that requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate, because the NCAA can't tell its members how to make a hire.

So Keith has spent years trying to convince university administrators to be more inclusive -- to little avail. "People ask if this is racism or racially motivated," Keith said. "I'll say this, whatever it is is a subjective argument about whether it's racially motivated or not. But when you look at the stats, it certainly brings up a racial issue."

An issue that could one day become a federal case.

"I would still love to think that student-athletes and parents who have athletes of color would look at schools and say 'If you can't be a coach or administrator there, why would you attend?" Keith said. "If we start getting that done, I think there will be some real changes. And it may come down to the legal aspects, as much as you'd hate to say that."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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