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Groups aim to promote diversity through new recommendations

Ad hoc committee, Gender Equity Task Force propose actions

Two membership-led groups came together Thursday to advance a series of recommendations for promoting diversity, inclusion and equity in the NCAA.

Five recommendations were developed by the NCAA Gender Equity Task Force and — in a joint meeting preceding the NCAA Inclusion Forum in Providence, Rhode Island — were approved by the NCAA Board of Governors Ad Hoc Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity. They will be presented to the Board of Governors for consideration during its meeting next week in Indianapolis. 

The ad hoc committee’s approval of the recommendations served as a significant step for the Gender Equity Task Force, a group composed of former and current athletics administrators and gender equity advocates who have worked together over the last two years to find ways to improve the landscape for female student-athletes, coaches and administrators in the NCAA. Its recommendations align with other Association-wide efforts regarding diversity and inclusion that are underway, including the presidential pledge.

“We believe these proposals will allow all three divisions to continue to move forward and continue to hold themselves accountable,” said task force member Jeff Orleans, a lawyer specializing in Title IX and a former executive director of The Ivy League. “The 50th anniversary of Title IX will be here in five years. … We need to be able to say, ‘This is what we’ve done, and we’re proud of it.’”

The recommendations include five action items:

  • Reaffirm and formalize the principles in the NCAA constitution on gender equity and cultural diversity throughout the NCAA governance system and the NCAA national office. This would include taking steps to ensure gender equity implications are considered during the creation of all legislation and policies and in the formation of NCAA committees and boards. 
  • Support Association-wide legislation that would require schools to conduct a regular diversity and inclusion review once every four or five years. Schools would not be required to submit their results of the review, but they would be asked to submit a form indicating it was completed. Such a review is already recommended in the presidential pledge, which nearly 70 percent of campus and conference leaders have signed.
  • Create a direct reporting line from the Committee on Women’s Athletics and the Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee to the new Board of Governors standing committee on diversity and equity. The standing committee will replace the ad hoc committee, a change the Board of Governors approved last fall to guarantee long-term oversight on these issues.
  • Require that the NCAA national office annually report its staff demographics with the goal of modeling for the membership diverse hiring, especially from the midlevel through executive level.Sponsor an annual meeting of advocates and thought leaders to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion in college athletics.

In addition, the recommendations outline a series of initiatives NCAA leadership could support, from developing best practices for schools around professional development programming to disseminating information about model diversity, inclusion and equity programs in the membership. They also advocate for further education on the meaning of gender equity, which the task force defines as “when participants in both the men’s and women’s sports programs would accept as fair and equitable the overall program of the other gender.”

This isn’t the first time an NCAA Gender Equity Task Force has released recommendations, but it is the first time it has done so in more than 20 years. The original task force disbanded in the early 1990s after accomplishing a series of goals that included creating the NCAA Emerging Sports For Women program. In 2015, NCAA leaders decided to re-establish a task force after considering data that showed a lack of progress, particularly among the representation of women in athletics leadership positions.  

“We have been working diligently over the last two years to figure out how we can stop the stall,” said Judy Sweet, a former membership-elected president of the NCAA and former longtime athletics director.

On Thursday, the ad hoc committee backed the task force’s work and agreed to carry their recommendations forward to the board. The Committee on Women’s Athletics also endorsed the recommendations.

Deborah Ford, ad hoc committee chair and chancellor at Wisconsin-Parkside, praised the impact the groups have already made but noted that the hard work was still to come. “We need to continue to work diligently in this next decade so that our successors are not having this same conversation in 2027,” Ford said. “Let’s really make an impact so that in five years we see movement, but in 10 years we see transformation.”

Standing committee charter

Also Thursday, the ad hoc committee voted to recommend the Board of Governors approve a charter for the new standing committee that will replace the ad hoc group. The Committee to Promote Cultural Diversity and Equity has been charged with reviewing and endorsing recommendations regarding diversity and inclusion issues that impact the Association. If the charter is approved, the committee will be composed of 15 members, including six presidents or chancellors. It would meet in person at least once a year, with other meetings occurring by teleconference as needed.