Why the College Football Playoff committee struggles with diversity


The pictures taken from within the College Football Playoff selection committee meeting room this past fall were stark -- nine white men and three minorities.

This year's group won't look much different this fall -- or likely anytime soon.

The CFP drew some criticism in January when it was announced that former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens, former Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower and former Central Michigan coach Herb Deromedi would replace the four outgoing committee members whose terms have expired. 

Nobody questioned the merits of the four men -- only their race.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who is one of only two Hispanic coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is black and the only female at the table, and former coach Tyrone Willingham, who is also black, will remain the only minorities on the most visible committee in college sports.

Can the CFP create more diversity, or is the committee merely a reflection of a larger problem in college football, and the entire industry of college sports?

"The most important thing at all times has to be competence," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "That's the most important thing -- even more than diversity -- which I will take some flak for saying, but that's just the truth. The key is, just like the Rooney rule, there should be consideration of everyone -- everyone who is qualified -- and no one should be excluded based on anything other than their qualifications for the job."

The CFP's management committee, a powerful group comprised of 10 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick -- 10 men and one woman, all of them white -- submit nominations for CFP selection committee members from their respective conferences. The CFP's Board of Managers, which is the organization's highest level of governance, is comprised of 11 university presidents and chancellors, and nine are white.

The pool of minorities and women the management committee has to choose from is shallow, and while the commissioners say they are cognizant of the issue, they're more determined to fill the committee with the most qualified football minds available.

"That committee is so unbelievably important right now," Shaw said. "I think two years in a row they've gotten it right. The problem is, they can't ever get it wrong. They just can't. Because our college football world will crumble. That's how important this thing is. It's not just about making sure any one group is racially or any other way represented, they have to be the right group of people because their result has to be right for all of us."

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson agreed. He said the MWC has submitted minority candidates for consideration, but "all of that is secondary to getting the best people on the committee."

"Certainly there's going to be folks that say we need better representation from these groupings," Thompson said. "I go back to the point: If they're qualified, absolutely, positively they should be considered."

Members of the CFP selection committee were not available to comment because the CFP limits media interviews to executive director Bill Hancock and committee chairman Kirby Hocutt.

The real question, Shaw said, is whether there are enough qualified minorities for the CFP to consider.

Selection committee members must fall into one of the following categories: former coaches, former players, administrators, journalists or sitting athletic directors. There are currently nine African-Americans, two Hispanics and three women among 65 Power 5 athletic directors. There are no minority athletic directors in the Big 12, and only one -- Vanderbilt's David Williams -- in the SEC.

"That's kind of like the old grandfather's club," said former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who retired in 2008 and was approached by the CFP to be a committee member. "If that's where you're pulling from, you're not going to be pulling too many minorities."

Dungy, the first black coach to win a Super Bowl, said he didn't think even he was qualified for the CFP committee.

"You have to get people who know the game, that understand it and make good decisions because that's what you want at the end of the day," Dungy said. "When they approached me, I'm not that person, because 90 percent of my time is spent watching professional football. I'm not an expert on who the best college teams are. I can put that time in and do the research, I'm sure, but there are people more qualified than me to do that. That's what they've got to look for."

The numbers show it's not easy.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby pointed out that five of the 13 committee seats are generally awarded to sitting athletic directors, usually from the Power 5 conferences -- which instantly limits the pool. Bowlsby said he thinks the CFP will face a similar dilemma the NCAA Council has encountered.

"One of the things we find in restructuring governance, is you get a very strong pool in the first pool of candidates, you get a less strong pool with each subsequent iteration, and they tend to be less diverse as well," he said. "It's a constant challenge and I think it will be a constant challenge for the football selection committee as well -- and for the board for that matter."

Among the coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame -- a distinctive group of former coaches that the CFP targets when selecting its nominees -- the pool of minorities isn't any better.

Of the 211 coaches in the Hall of Fame, only 14 are minorities, according to the National Football Foundation, and Alvarez is one of them.

Former University of Miami president Donna Shalala, who is now the president of the Clinton Foundation, suggested that in order to further diversify the committee in the future, the CFP should consider more former university presidents.

"Should they have more diversity? Absolutely, everybody thinks that," said Shalala, who is also on the board of the National Football Foundation. "If they were thinking former college presidents, they would actually easily be able to find a group of people who are responsible for big-time college athletics, including football.

"If you wanted to find some people like [Rice]," she said, "you could use that university category and go to former presidents for both women and minorities."

Shalala certainly fits that category, but said she's not ready for an invitation from the CFP.

"At the moment, no, I'm busy," she said. "Down the road, maybe. At the moment I'm a little tied up."

She's not the only one.

If it weren't for the rigors of his third year in the Florida State College of Medicine -- not to mention the seven years of neurosurgery residency that will follow -- former FSU defensive back and Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle said he would love to be on the CFP selection committee. He hasn't been asked, but Rolle is on the Knight Commission, which tackles issues such as race in college athletics.

Rolle, an African-American, said the image of the selection committee is more of a reflection on society than it is an issue rooted in the CFP.

"There aren't many black, minority and women in senior administrative positions," he said. "That's quite rare. If the pool is limited of who to select from, then of course that room that we talk about in the college football selection committee is going to look like a bunch of old white men. I think it takes not only an acknowledgement that this is a problem, I think it takes a first step toward maybe training some black, qualified minority and female candidates for some of these positions and then you'll have more of an opportunity to select from these people.

"Look, you think about the first black player to play college football. It wasn't that that long ago, and now you look at the game on Saturday and the field is littered with minority and black players. But then nothing else has really caught up to that exponential increase in the amount of black players -- certainly not the coaches, not the athletic directors, female administrators, not the executive levels in Indianapolis at the NCAA level."

In addition to the categories selection committee members must fall into, the CFP is also sensitive to geography, and tries to get committee members who represent the entire country. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who was instrumental in advocating for Willingham and Rice to be on the committee, said the categories give the commissioners "limited flexibility."

"We know we want ADs, and the truth is there are too few women and too few ethnic minorities who are athletic directors, but it's important we have athletic directors," Scott said. "We've said we want former coaches, ideally Hall of Fame coaches, and there are too few ethnic minorities who are Hall of Fame coaches, and last time I checked there are no women in that pool. But we have left some slots -- limited slots -- for others at-large; members of the media and other notable citizens like Dr. Rice and other administrators. I do think we've got some limited flexibility to have a more diverse group going forward and I think you will see over time that we will."

ACC commissioner John Swofford said the CFP needs to get a little creative.

"We want to continue to take a look at people outside of the pure athletic box that would be really good committee members and understand the game itself and bring all of the other qualities that are expected with individuals around that table," he said. "That may be a larger pool. We've got to be creative in terms of who we're thinking about collectively that would be in that pool because that's an important part of this too, including journalists."

Hancock said diversity is still a priority of the CFP, but competency is the key factor.

"We will continue to keep gender and ethnic diversity in mind," Hancock said, "and I daresay this is one of the most diverse groups of its kind -- but the important thing is to get the most knowledgeable people."

And for all of them -- regardless of race or gender -- to get it right.