Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

A Rooney Rule for Colleges?


In this morning’s New York Post, George Willis writes that the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” under which teams hiring a new head coach must interview at least one non-white applicant, “has outlived its purpose and is being manipulated to the point where it has become a joke.” Even when, as often occurs, a team has already chosen a successor by the time the incumbent coach is fired, it still has to go through the motions of interviewing a black candidate:

The Redskins’ hiring of Mike Shanahan three days after firing Jim Zorn and the Seahawks successful pursuit of Pete Carroll after dumping Jim Mora are the latest examples of how the Rooney Rule has lost its impact. To comply with the Rooney Rule the Redskins supposedly interviewed secondary coach Jerry Gray, even though owner Daniel Snyder sent his jet for Shanahan as the door was hitting Zorn on his way out. Gray, meanwhile, is playing the good soldier part, offering few details of his “interview.”

The Seahawks, meanwhile, interviewed Vikings defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, just as reports circulated Carroll had reached an agreement to leave USC and take over the Seattle franchise.

On Saturday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the Redskins and Seahawks had complied with the Rooney Rule, a sentiment echoed by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which is charged with making sure clubs adhere to the rule. Please.

Clearly, Frazier and Gray were never serious candidates for those jobs. Add their interviews to the long list of sham interviews given to African-American coaches just to fulfill the Rooney Rule.

In fact, this sort of kabuki theater has been going on since the rule was enacted.

Willis thinks the Rooney Rule has been instrumental in helping blacks to win coaching jobs (in recent years, 6 or 7 of the NFL’s 32 head coaches have been black, a rate of roughly 20 percent, and both coaches in 2007’s Super Bowl XLI were black). Whether or not that’s true, he makes a good case that it’s time to get rid of the rule. Dan Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers owner for whom the rule is named, has been quoted as saying, “I really feel and hope that we will not need a Rooney Rule very long.” Instead, as Roger Clegg feared, the league expanded it last year to include all senior-level positions, including general managers.

Moreover, some politicians, academics, and coaches (though not all) want to apply a similar rule to colleges, while others suggest suing under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As Clegg has written, not only would this stand the act’s plain language on its head, but it is based on a faulty premise: If you use as your baseline the fraction of male college graduates who are black, instead of the fraction of the population as a whole, blacks are not “underrepresented” among college-football coaches.

The NFL’s experience with the Rooney Rule provides yet another reason why racial discrimination under the guise of “affirmative action” is a bad idea: Once in place, it is virtually impossible to get rid of. There are many reasons for this, but one important one is that eliminating it would be seen as a declaration that the problem is solved (its very “success” is typically used to demonstrate how essential it is). In the NFL, the Rooney Rule is mostly a PR gimmick; in colleges, “affirmative action” serves as ritual expiation for the original sin of racism. Either way, history has shown that once adopted, the use of race-based goals, timetables, and outright quotas only expands — from coaches to front-office personnel in the NFL, and from students to faculty and coaches in college.

In Grutter v. Bollinger (decided in 2003, the same year the Rooney Rule was adopted), Justice Sandra Day  O’Connor wrote: “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” It’s a long way to 2028, but so far, all the movement since O’Connor wrote those words has been in the opposite direction.


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