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NCAA president Mark Emmert responds to congressional call for answers on hiring diversity

Emmert answers a coalition of representatives about the organization’s progress on a diversity pledge by saying, essentially, that it’s up to the schools.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-NCAA President Mark Emmert Press Conference Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA president Mark Emmert responded to a letter sent by multiple U.S. representatives asking the NCAA for a progress report on a 2016 pledge its member schools signed to increase hiring diversity. In a letter dated Oct. 31 and obtained by SB Nation, Emmert welcomed the “opportunity to discuss” the NCAA’s role in “fostering a more equitable environment” at its member schools.

The letter was addressed to Oregon congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, who was the primary author of the letter sent to Emmert in early October. In his response, Emmert indicated that the NCAA doesn't interfere with the hiring practices of individual member schools and also touted diversity initiatives it promotes.

As you certainly can appreciate, the NCAA has never had any jurisdiction or authority with respect to a member school's personnel decisions (i.e., hiring, discipline, firing), even within an athletic department. Each college or university operates independently using its own human resources policies, state legislative requirements, and local ordinances to determine their campus-wide personnel decisions, including athletic department personnel within that institution. Even when an employee at one of our member schools has been found to have violated NCAA rules through the infractions process, none of the penalties imposed by the NCAA would suggest termination of employment. Additionally, the NCAA cannot make hiring decisions on behalf of member schools; nor could it mandate who is interviewed for available positions. Universities and colleges retain their autonomy and authority in this regard.

In the letter, Emmert cited the 2016 diversity pledge and the existence of the NCAA Office of Inclusion as examples of the organization’s commitment to improving diversity. He also wrote that urgency will be given to “strategies that develop a culture that values diversity as a means of organizational excellence and provides service to higher education and student-athletes.”

“I appreciate the NCAA’s response, and will follow their progress in promoting diversity in hiring,” Bonamici said in a statement to SB Nation.

The NCAA also attached multiple initiatives for minorities and women across all of its sports in an appendix section.

In an appendix attached to the letter, Emmert identified NCAA initiatives focused on improving diversity in football coaching positions, college athletics administration roles, and overall gender equity in college sports. These included a partnership with the NFL at the Division II and III levels to foster diversity in coaching. The top tier of college football still lags far behind in diversity.

At the beginning of the college football season, there were only 14 black head coaches out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision programs. There are also only 14 black athletic directors. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport on Wednesday 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.

The 2016 presidential pledge the NCAA asked its schools to sign was intended to promote diversity and gender equality in intercollegiate athletics.

As of early October, it was signed by 838 schools and 102 conferences, over 80 percent of the NCAA membership. Some notable schools, including Notre Dame and Boston College, did not sign on. Those two felt that the non-binding pledge did not go far enough.

Below is Emmert’s letter in full:

Dear Representative Bonamici:

Thank you for your continued support and leadership in the effort to create a more diverse and inclusive environment in higher education and intercollegiate athletics. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) shares your belief in the power of inclusive Drive excellence and has worked to address the low number of women and ethnic minorities serving in leadership positions within intercollegiate athletics. As president of the NCAA, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Association's role in fostering a more equitable environment at our more than 1,100 membership institutions.

The NCAA is a membership organization dedicated to providing students a pathway to opportunity through our focus on academics, student-athlete well-being and fairness in college sports. The Association also seeks to establish and maintain an inclusive and culturally relevant context that fosters equitable participation for student-athletes and career opportunities for coaches and administrators.

As you certainly can appreciate, the NCAA has never had any jurisdiction or authority with respect to a member school's personnel decisions (i.e., hiring, discipline, firing), even within an athletic department. Each college or university operates independently using its own human resources policies, state legislative requirements, and local ordinances to determine their campus-wide personnel decisions, including athletic department personnel within that institution. Even when an employee at one of our member schools has been found to have violated NCAA rules through the infractions process, none of the penalties imposed by the NCAA would suggest termination of employment. Additionally, the NCAA cannot make hiring decisions on behalf of member schools; nor could it mandate who is interviewed for available positions. Universities and colleges retain their autonomy and authority in this regard.

We remain vigilant and concerned about representational diversity of ethnic minorities and women in coaching and athletics administration. In January 2016, the NCAA Board of Governors, the Association's highest-ranking governance body, issued the Resolution Reaffirming Commitment to Cultural Diversity & Inclusiveness. This commitment led to the board inviting presidents and chancellors at member schools to sign a voluntary pledge, the "Pledge and Commitment to Promoting Diversity and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics.” As of October 6, 2017, 838 schools and 102 conferences have signed the pledge, culminating in over 80 percent of members participating. A full list of the organizations that have committed to the pledge can be found at ncaa.org/pledge.

Of particular note, more than a decade ago, the NCAA Office of Inclusion was created to assist member schools, conferences and the national office in accelerating representational diversity, enhancing intercultural competence, and increasing key stakeholder relations to reach our most ambitious equity and diversity goals. The Office of Inclusion, now led by Dr. Katrice Albert, executive vice president of inclusion and human resources, works to implement strategic planning initiatives and procure beneficial partnerships that bolster the Association’s diversity and inclusion efforts. We are cognizant of our role in fostering an environment where diversity and inclusion may thrive. In the attached appendix, you will find examples of various NCAA resources, programs, and initiatives.

As we move forward with urgency and relevance, emphasis will be given to strategies that develop a culture that values diversity as a means of organizational excellence and provides service to higher education and student-athletes. We will continue to provide strategic educational resources to our members who have decision-making authority to insert the principles of equity and inclusion in the talent management life cycle.

Sincerely,

Mark A. Emmert NCAA President

Tyler Tynes contributed reporting to this story.