CONDI COMES TO PLAY

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Yesterday Executive Director Bill Hancock announced who would sit on the 13-member College Football Playoff (CFP) Selection Committee.   The committee, which will pick the four teams that will vie in the playoff for the national championship next year, undoubtedly needed to be filled with heavy hitters who know and appreciate the game of football and the system of college athletics.  Well, one thing is for sure, the committee has no shortage of heavy hitters. Here’s a brief introduction:

Jeff Long, Chairman, 54, University of Arkansas-Athletic Director (AD)

  • AD at Pittsburg and Eastern Kentucky; Played football and baseball for Ohio Wesleyan

Barry Alvarez, 66, University of Wisconsin-AD

  • Former Nebraska football player; Coached Wisconsin for 16 seasons as the winningest coach in school history

Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, 60

  • Former superintendent and football player at the US Air Force Academy

Pat Haden, 60, University of Southern California-AD

  • Played QB for USC and the LA Rams; Rhodes Scholar and former TV analyst

Tom Jernstedt, 68

  • Former NCAA Vice President; Oversaw the men’s Final Four & selection committee; 38 years with the NCAA

Oliver Luck, 53, West Virginia-AD

  • Former West Virginia & NFL QB; Former President of NFL Europe and the Houston Dynamo

Archie Manning, 64

  • Former Mississippi & NFL QB; Member of the College Football Hall of Fame; Father to Peyton and Eli Manning

Tom Osborne, 76

  • Former Nebraska football coach; Won 3 National Titles; Former member of Congress; Former Nebraska AD

Dan Radakovich, 54, Clemson University-AD

  • Played football at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Former AD at Georgia Tech & American University

Mike Tranghese, 69

  • Former Commissioner of the Big East

Steve Wieberg, 59

  • Former college sports reporter for USA Today

Tyrone Willingham, 59

  • Former coach of Notre Dame, Stanford & Washington; Played Football at Michigan State

Condoleezza Rice, 58, Stanford University professor

  • Former Secretary of State & National Security Advisor to President George W. Bush; Former provost at Stanford

As you can see, I saved the most interesting, controversial pick for last.  The committee’s only woman is none other than former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  While I may not agree with this woman or her President’s politics, you must admit, she’s pretty effing amazing.  From educator, to politician, to athlete; this woman does and has done it all.  But despite her accomplishments, and even before the committee was officially announced, Rice’s place on the committee was questioned. 

One of her most outspoken naysayers was former Auburn coach, Pat Dye.  When asked about Rice’s possible position on the committee, Dye gave us this gem: “All she knows about football is what somebody told her, or what she read in a book, or what she saw on television. To understand football, you’ve got to play with your hand in the dirt.  I love Condoleezza Rice and she’s probably a good statesman and all of that but how in the hell does she know what it’s like out there when you can’t get your breath and it’s 110 degrees and the coach asks you to go some more?"  On the surface, Dye’s comments appear to express a legitimate concern that the committee member’s be experienced in football; but things rarely are as they appear.  Once you scratch the surface you see that Dye’s comments are actually an expression of his gender bias and probably the gender bias that exists in sports (especially male dominated sports) in general.

Had Dye really been concerned that committee members have legitimate football playing experience, he would have also directed his comments at two others on the committee—Mike Traghese and Steve Wieberg—neither which ever played football.  Yet their qualifications weren’t questioned.  I guess Traghese’s and Wieberg’s status as men exempts them from needing to actually play football in order to be viable candidates.  I think it’s worth noting that one of the most prolific leaders in football history, former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, never played football.  Playing football is not a criteria for thoroughly understanding and knowing the game.  The committee members have not been asked to coach the four playoff teams, but merely to select them based on teams’ records, level of competition, talent, etc.; all of which can be considered based on one’s knowledge of the sport. 

Like the other members of the committee, Rice brings a unique perspective backed by an esteemed career.  No, she never played football, but she hired one of the other members of the committee, Tyrone Willingham, as head coach during her time as Provost of Stanford.  In that capacity she oversaw the entire athletic program of a large Division I school.  She knows how the NCAA works and she knows how a large football program works.  Her background as “probably a good statesman,” Secretary of State of the most powerful country on the planet proves that she not only is a team leader and player but has experience making tough decisions and compromising.  If diversity and the ability to make decisions under pressure is what the selection committee needed, Rice provides that without a doubt. 

Dye’s comments, however, are less about Rice’s abilities and more about the gender gap in college sports administration. While very few would blatantly admit to having biases against women, statistics (and comments like Dye’s) suggest that women have been shut out the sports administration process because of beliefs that women can’t handle sports management, especially when it involves male dominated sports.  Out of the 125 FBS schools, only 8 eight have athletic directors who are women.  I did the math, that’s only 6.4%.  There are also only a few female directors of football operations, and it’s a fact that most sports administrators at the college level are men.  Yes, it’s crystal clear that women have a long way to go before they are accepted as men are in sports administration.

I am hopeful, however, that as women progress in sports as players and managers, more doors will open for them to be administrators.  I could be wrong, but I truly believe that the lack of diversity in sports administration isn’t solely attributed to a belief that women are inferior sports managers when compared to men.  I think some bias exists, but I also think there is a fear of the unknown and an unwillingness for women to apply to higher level administrative positions.  As more women are successfully placed in positions like Rice’s, more institutions will feel comfortable placing the reins of their athletics departments in the hands of women.  And as more women see that it’s possible for women to be selected as sports administrators, more will apply, thereby diversifying the applicant and administrator pool.  At least that’s what I hope.

Women are just as competent as men in understanding business and sports.  But what female administrators will offer is more meaningful than mere competence.  They have the potential to bring a fresh, diverse prospective to college sports.  A diverse outlook will allow programs to develop creative ways to solve problems and innovative approaches to improving the experiences of college athletes and fans.  The same diversity that was important in the decision to choose Rice for the CFP Selection Committee is the same diversity that can improve on college athletics and women’s perception in sports. 

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