WCC’s ‘Russell Rule’ seeks real change
West Coast Conference leaders thought there had already been enough words and statements addressing the pursuit of racial equality in college athletics. They wanted their response to George Floyd’s death and the resulting social justice movement to be rooted in action.
Commissioner Gloria Nevarez engaged WCC presidents and athletic directors in a series of brainstorming sessions through June and July, leading up to last week’s launch of the groundbreaking Russell Rule, named after Bill Russell, who played basketball at league-member University of San Francisco in the 1950s.
The bold diversity hiring initiative, similar to the NFL’s Rooney Rule, calls for each WCC school to include at least one minority finalist in searches for ADs, senior administrators, head coaches and assistant coaches. It is the first rule of its kind in NCAA Division I athletics.
“Our presidents really wanted meaningful change,” Nevarez said. “This was at a time after George Floyd’s murder that everyone was putting out statements of support. But we wanted to do something that had some staying power.”
By “staying power,” Nevarez means that the Russell Rule will be written into the WCC’s handbook and it will be in the conference’s bylaws and constitution.
“It will outlive us all, hopefully,” Nevarez said.
The commissioner said there will be exceptions, though. Gonzaga, for example, has succession plans in place for men’s basketball coach Mark Few to be replaced by assistant coach Tommy Lloyd and for Deputy AD Chris Standiford to succeed AD Mike Roth. Both are white males.
Those scenarios prompted the WCC to make “ascension” exceptions in cases where an internal hire is planned and made.
“You want consistency from hiring within, and that’s a good thing for a department,” Nevarez said.
There’s also an exception for schools that invite a minority candidate to be part of the finalists pool and the candidate declines. In that case, the school will have satisfied the requirement.
With the implementation of any rule, there must be consequences for it to be effective. The commissioner’s office will be in charge of enforcement, just as it would a sportsmanship violation on the court.
The commissioner has several different penalties she can use, from public and private warnings to suspensions and fines.
The most effective tool, however, might be the impact of the public perception that will come with noncompliance of the hiring rule.
Nevarez hired Richard Lapchick, the founder and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, to issue annual report cards on WCC schools and the diversity of their hiring pools.
“It’s another level of accountability,” Nevarez said. “That’s a really important piece of ensuring that we’re tracking and trending in the right direction. … Hopefully, the Russell Rule gets legs and becomes something that other leagues or entities find helpful.”