Dear Congress: NCAA Diversity Pledge

Published on January 12th, 2018

In August of 2016, the NCAA Board of Governors called on Presidents of NCAA member institutions to sign the “Pledge and Commitment to Promoting Diversity and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics.” To date, more than 800 institution Presidents have signed the pledge.

In 2017, six members of the United States Congress, led by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR 1st District) asked NCAA President Emmert for an update on this pledge. The enclosed letter is the Women’s Sports Foundation’s response to Congress’ inquiry of the progress of the NCAA pledge.

Questions? Please contact Sarah Axelson, Director of Advocacy.


December 21, 2017
U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici
439 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Via Email and US Mail

To the Honorable U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici,

I am writing to applaud your and your colleagues’ interest in and attention to the hiring practices in college athletics. Writing NCAA President Emmert has brought national attention to this critical issue, which is fundamental to creating diverse leadership not only in educational institutions, but in corporations and organizations across America.

The Women’s Sports Foundation, founded 43 years ago by Billie Jean King is dedicated to advancing leadership through sports to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels for all. We, too, wrote President Emmert acknowledging his leadership in this effort. We also urged the NCAA leadership to include women when speaking of minorities as we believe addressing inclusion and diversity issues is best achieved when all minorities are explicitly included rather than policies address minority groups separately.

We know that the NCAA has no jurisdiction or authority in making hiring, disciplining and firing decisions at individual university athletic departments. However, according to the NCAA Division I Manual, they are committed to diversity, inclusion and equity.

  • Membership believes in and is committed to the core values of diversity, inclusion and equity, because realization of those values improves the learning environment for all student-athletes and enhances excellence within the membership and in all aspects of intercollegiate athletics. The membership shall create diverse and inclusive environments, promote an atmosphere of respect for and sensitivity to the dignity of every person, and include diverse perspectives in the pursuit of academic and athletic excellence. Member institutions, with assistance from the national office, are expected to develop inclusive practices that foster positive learning and competitive environments for student-athletes, as well as professional development and opportunities for athletics administrators, coaches and staff from diverse backgrounds. 

While the Presidential Pledge is well-intentioned to address diversity leadership issues, we fear significant progress will be slow or insignificant without accountability. As outlined above in the Division I Manual, we implore those who are directly and indirectly accountable for hiring decisions to develop accountability measures that will ensure progress in real time. There have been several policy recommendations put forth we hope you will support. As most know, the Rooney rule was created to increase head coaching minority hires in professional football. The proposed Eddie Robinson rule and the Judy Sweet rule would initiate opportunity for diverse pools of candidates for every opening for men’s and women’s head-coaching positions and all senior administrative positions.

There is significant research confirming that better business decisions are made by diverse groups of leaders, and athletics is no exception. We have a diverse population of male and female student-athletes, and they should see leaders who look like themselves and are role models. Almost every day we are seeing and reading how the lack of minority and inclusive leadership is holding our country back from being the great nation we want to be. Sports can play an integral role in our nation’s success.

However, Dr. Richard Lapchick’s latest report from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport gave the NCAA’s FBS member schools a D+ for racial hiring and F for gender hiring in its annual report card, citing a lack of improvement. We must do better. The WSF and the coalition of organizations with whom we work are committed to supporting your efforts and helping in every way we can.

I look forward to hearing about next steps and lending our support.


Deborah Slaner Larkin
Chief Advocacy Officer


U.S. Representative Cedric Richmond
U.S. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer
U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson
U.S. Representative Maxine Waters
Dr. Richard Lapchick