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WCC introduces ‘Russell Rule’ to drive diversity hiring in athletics

NBA legend Bill Russell speaks at an event.
The West Coast Conference has instituted a new initiative named after NBA legend Bill Russell that looks to hire members of the “traditionally underrepresented community” in coaching and athletic administration jobs.
(Jack Plunkett / Associated Press)

The West Coast Conference introduced a new diversity hiring initiative Monday named for NBA and University of San Francisco legend Bill Russell.

Known as the “Russell Rule,” the initiative will require WCC schools to include a member of a traditionally underrepresented community in the final pool of candidates every time they hire an athletic director, senior administrator, head coach or full-time assistant coach. The WCC is the first Division I conference to make such a commitment.

“It is my hope the West Coast Conference initiative will encourage other leagues and schools to make similar commitments,” Russell said in a statement. “We need to be intentional if we’re going to make real change for people of color in leadership positions in college athletics.”

The initiative is similar to the NFL’s “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to interview one minority candidate for head coaching positions. Despite the rule being in place since 2003, there are only four minority head coaches in the NFL. In an effort to rectify the imbalance, the league expanded the rule in May, requiring teams to interview two external minority candidates for head coaching jobs and to interview minority and/or female candidates for some executive positions.

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In discussing the new rule, the WCC was wary of repeating the NFL’s shortcomings.

“It all comes down to how each institution really embraces it,” Pepperdine athletic director Steve Potts said. “And I’m encouraged by the fact that we’ve all been very supportive of this idea and new rule.”

Each school will submit a hiring report to the WCC Presidents’ Council after making each decision to show evidence it complied with the rule.

WCC commissioner Gloria Nevarez, the first Latin American Division I conference commissioner, said in a statement she hoped the rule would help ensure that diversity of the conference’s student-athletes was reflected in the people who lead them.

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The Russell Rule is the headlining piece of a “We are Committed to Change” platform that received unanimous approval from the league’s presidents.

Minnesota’s Matt Dumba became the first NHL player to kneel during the U.S. national anthem when he did so before the Oilers-Blackhawks game in Edmonton.

The platform is intended to address equality, diversity and inclusion in the WCC. The conference held an anti-racism webinar for coaches, administrators and student-athletes on June 29; will expand its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee that was formed in 2019 to include representatives and student-athletes from all 10 schools; encourage voting education and registration for student-athletes; will play a “We are Committed to Change” video before WCC games and observe Juneteenth as an official holiday.

The conference also partnered with Dr. Richard Lapchick, the founder and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), to develop an annual race and gender report of each WCC institution and the conference office. Lapchick produces similar reports for professional sports leagues including MLB and the NFL and NBA.


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