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Column: Few and far between

If you want to put me in a total state of confusion, force me to watch a football game. Unfortunately, I must admit to all you football fanatics that my knowledge is limited to "the guy who catches and runs as far as he can before getting tackled" (I believe this is the quarterback), "the guy who throws the ball," and last but definitely not least "the big guys in the middle who tackle." I must apologize to all of you for my ignorance, as I am sure the sport of football consists of much more than my overly simplistic breakdown. Despite my self-proclaimed ignorance, I'm confident in the following: Every football team plays with one goal in mindâ??to win.

I have already confessed that I am a bona fide football moron; therefore, the dynamics of why Duke's football team has the stigma of such a disappointing record must be broken down into basic terms. Yet, a nagging feeling I call common sense draws me to the conclusion that this dreary record is a consequence of bad coaching. Carl Franks is in his fourth year of a five-year contract. Duke would have a hard time justifying retaining him after another fruitless season. In light of a USA Today article I happened to peruse, I was forced to battle with the obvious dearth of black college coaches. Had a black coach been responsible for such a poor record, would he linger as long as Franks has?

There is a scarcity of black football coaches, with only five African-American head coaches among 117 head coaches in Division I-A. In a recent move to action, the Black Coaches Association is warning colleges it will steer prospects away from institutions that do not improve minority-hiring practices. In an era when "affirmative action" has become a divisive buzzword at colleges and universities across the country, college athletics in the United States, according to the Northeastern University's Center for Sport in Society racial report card, provide the fewest opportunities for blacks in coaching and management-level positions. In an attempt to clearly illustrate this problem, I must supply oft-overlooked statistics. The Center for Sport in Society reports that blacks make up 46.4 percent of the players in college football, yet they constitute a paltry 4.7 percent of the head football coaches. Do these numbers make sense?

There are multiple factors involved in the lack of black coaches at the college and university level. Oftentimes the hiring criteria are expressed in a fashion that unfairly eliminates blacks from the beginning with job announcements indicating that applicants should have Division I head coaching experience. If the job is looking for previous experience head coaching at a Division I level, then you are currently only referring to the five existing black coaches. What's more, the decision to hire particular coaches is often a decision that is not reserved for athletic departments to make on their own. At many colleges, such as Duke University, the alumni and boosters are controlling the funds for these programs. If you control the money you have major influence on those decisions. Division I football is surprisingly a big money business. Too many black coaches running around would probably disrupt people's comfort zones, and consequently, their money flows. Realistically, this situation will not change drastically until blacks begin to gain positions as athletic directors, where they can have more say in whom to recruit and hire.

It would be a great disservice for me to ignore the fact that steps, although small, are currently being taken to improve this disparity. Tyrone Willingham has recently become the first black head coach at Notre Dame in any sport and has also assumed one of the most prestigious positions in college football. Note the fact that this man is not simply a brown pawn used to fill a space of whiteness; he has all the desirable qualifications necessary for successful coaching.

I am not at all arguing that coaching spots be blindly filled with black coaches regardless of their coaching potentialâ??that would be absurd. Rather, it is important that all qualified candidates be considered, regardless of race. In regards to our football team here at Duke, the talent exists. I am not questioning whether we are capable of having a formidable team. Yet, the glaring fact that Franks has had a dismal record over such a long period of time makes me wonder if this institution would be just as merciful had Franks been one of the few existing black football coaches.


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