(Photo Courtesy of Ohio Northern Atheltics)
The latest data that the NCAA has published on demographics within coaches and student-athletes was in 2019. That data says that there were 386 head men’s lacrosse coaches across all three divisions in 2019. Division I and II were each listed as having 71, while DIII had 244. Among those 386 head coaches, 96% were white, 3% were black, and 2% were listed as other.
Breaking it down into the three divisions, in Division I, 93% of head coaches were white, 3% were black, and 4% were listed as other. In Division II, 92% of head coaches were white, 7% were black, and 1% were listed as other. In Division III, 96% of head coaches were white, 2% were black, and 1% were listed as other.
After the 2019 season, the number of black head coaches in DI was decreased to just one, as Rick Sowell was let go at Navy and Rashad Devoe replaced Lloyd Carter at Hampton. Devoe has now left Hampton for DIII power Amherst, which means there are currently no black head coaches in DI. Kris Alleyne at Canisius, Collins Gantz at Hampton were the only three black DI assistant coaches in 2020. Across all divisions, there are 26 black assistant coaches. Additionally, Florida Southern (DII) head coach Marty Ward is the only Native American head coach across all three divisions.
On the women’s side, the data says that in 2019 there were 520 head coaches in 2019 across all three divisions. 92% were white, 2% were black, 5% were listed as other. Division I had a total of 117 head coaches and 86% were white, while 3% were black and 10% were listed as other.
These stats point out an issue that many in the lacrosse community know, but don’t often bring enough attention to for whatever reason. That very issue is the lack of diversity among coaches in college lacrosse. While things have gotten better since 2012 when there were only two black head coaches and 11 black assistant coaches across all three divisions, there is still more work to be done to make sure that the diversity amongst college coaches, head coaches in particular, more accurately reflects America and the world as a whole.
When you look at the same stats for players, the number of black players in the NCAA increased from 289 in 2012 to 564 in 2019 in Men’s and from 231 to 429 in Women’s. And that is across all three divisions. In Division I, the number of black players increased from 55 to 112 in Men’s and 66 to 99 in Women’s. However, this still means that the majority of the current programs in college lacrosse have only one or two black or minority players on their roster, and some are still all white.
The increase in diversity is great, but lacrosse is still a far cry away from where we need to be from a diversity standpoint. And one of the most crucial ways that we can achieve that is to have more black and minority head and assistant coaches in college lacrosse.
Imagine a black head coach leading a team that features multiple black players to Championship Weekend. What would the impact on the sport from an outsider’s perspective be? Would it help spark change regarding the sport’s long-standing stigma as a rich, white kid sport? Possibly.
That scenario was one goal away from happening in 2016 with Navy, who was led by then-head coach Rick Sowell and featured midfielder Greyson Torain as one of their best offensive weapons. The impact on the sport could have been pretty big if the Midshipmen had achieved that goal of getting to Championship Weekend.
That kind of impact has yet to be seen in the game, so we need to work to make sure that one day it can. And it all starts with making sure that black and minority players, both men and women, have every opportunity to go into coaching if they so choose, and have the same opportunity to rise through the coaching ranks just like their white peers do. It won’t fix everything and it certainly can’t happen overnight, but it would severely help push the sport forward.
When someone who looks like you, has a similar background as you, or truly understands what you have gone through is in a powerful position in something, you are usually more inclined to try whatever that thing may be, in this case, lacrosse, and stick with it.
But the biggest question is, how do we make this a reality and keep it that way?
After talking to multiple folks across multiple ranks of the game over the past few days, it is clear that many agree on similar ideas and visions. Some could be easily executed while others would be more difficult, and maybe even draw some controversy. And, again, this is going to have to be a process that takes time. Nothing will happen overnight.
For the sake of this article, it is best to break down these ideas into their own independent sections.
Increase Minority Participation Across The Board
First and foremost, to have more black and minority coaches there needs to be more black and minority players. That is just simple logic. And while the game is more diverse than it has ever been at various levels, there is still a lot of work to be done.
To keep the increase in the diversity of players, we must provide more access to the game. That means making the game more welcoming to minorities in predominately white areas and going into areas that are predominately black or other minority and showing kids just how fun the game is, and that the stigma they may have about the sport isn’t 100% true. Also, decreasing the cost to play would greatly help to further promote and grow the game in predominately black and minority areas. And there are many ways that can happen.
Lacrosse is expensive. That’s a fact. You need a helmet, gloves, pads, and a stick. Add all that up and you will likely get a price that is north of $200. And then add in the fact that there are fees to play, especially if your child wants to play club, and that you need space to practice on your own. The average family just can’t afford lacrosse. And while there are programs through US Lacrosse and other organizations that help aid those who don’t have the means to access the game, we need more work to be done across the board.
If you are an equipment company, think about what more you can do. If you are already doing something, fantastic and keep it up. And the same goes for high school, grade school, and club teams. You must come up with scholarship packages, work with any wealthier family in your organization, or something along those lines to create more opportunities for those less fortunate to access the game and see just how great it is, and how far it can take you. Lacrosse truly is a medicine game and can change lives, and everyone who wants to see that should have the opportunity to.
Some other ideas that have been thrown out in conversations over the past week or two have been the idea of college teams, as well as club and high school teams in well-to-do areas partnering more with teams and organizations like Harlem Lacrosse, Owls Lacrosse, and others. And it can’t just be a one-time thing. Be involved as much as you can in providing competition, coaching, or other means to help advance those programs so that the sport will be better overall.
Usually, the more a kid plays the game, the more a kid will fall in love with it. And the more kids from more diverse backgrounds fall in love with the game, the more diverse the pool of players who aspire to be coaches will be at all levels.
Does Lacrosse Need A Rooney Rule?
Beyond creating more diversity among the player pool, are there structural things that can be implemented to help create more diversity amongst college lacrosse coaching? For many, the answer is a profound yes, but the tactics vary.
One thing that many brought up in conversations was the possible implementation of a Rooney Rule, or something along those lines, in college lacrosse or just college athletics in general. If you are a sports fan, you have likely heard the term before. It is a rule the NFL established in 2003 after multiple black head coaches were fired following the 2002 season.
The rule mandates that teams must interview an ethnic-minority coach for head coaching jobs and senior-level football operations positions. And while there has been some success with the Rooney Rule there have been wide-scale arguments that it also needs to be implemented in college sports, it has been called into question multiple times as the number of minority head coaches in the NFL has seemed to plummet from the numbers in the early 2010s.
Most recently, the NFL expanded the rule in May of 2020. The rule now makes it mandatory for teams to interview at least two minority candidates for head coaching jobs, as well as offensive, defensive, special-teams coordinator positions, and more front office positions.
Should a rule like this be implemented in college lacrosse and how well would it work? For many, the answer is maybe. On the surface, The Rooney Rule seems like it could make college lacrosse coaching a more diverse profession. However, who’s not to say that the same problems won’t arise in college lacrosse that have in the NFL?
The biggest fear that many have around a Rooney Rule type situation in college lacrosse is that it wouldn’t change much and athletic directors would just check the box and move on with hiring a non-minority coach. Also, there have been situations in other sports where teams, both in college and pro, have already had their guy picked out and he wasn’t a minority but they interviewed a minority anyway to make the “optics” look good. That is very problematic and similar situations could very well arise in college lacrosse because of any ruling that is similar or directly mimics the NFL’s Rooney Rule.
Committees, Boards, and Associations
The NCAA has a diversity and inclusion committee that is association-wide, the IMLCA has recently created their own diversity and inclusion board, which is headed by Ohio Northern and Redwoods LC (PLL) head coach Nat St. Laurent, and US Lacrosse does work in the diversity and inclusion realm.
In speaking with Coach St. Laurent for this article, he mentioned the broad spectrum of coaches from various levels they have on the newly-formed IMLCA Diversity and Inclusion board and how much progress he believes they can make just based off of what they have already done so far. Seeing this work being taken on by a group such as the IMLCA is truly refreshing for many and will hopefully help to create the diversity that we truly need in the game.
But outside of the already existing organizations that are at the top of the lacrosse world, could lacrosse benefit from an organization like the Black Coaches Association (BCA), which actually broke off into the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development (NACED) and the Advocates for Athletic Equity (AAE) which both went fully extinct in 2016, coming back into the fold of college athletics? The group was focused primialry on basketball but added football in the mix later on, and did some great work during its height in the 1980s and 1990s when guys like Nolan Richardson, John Thompson, and Clem Haskins were head figures in college athletics.
If an association like the BCA was to come back into the fold and operated separately from the NCAA how would lacrosse benefit? It is highly possible that if such an organization came back and focused on all sports that lacrosse would benefit. An organizaton like that would likely have an outside view of lacrosse, which we need so often, that could help us inside the lacrosse world truly see more ways that we can change the game for the better.
Additionally, an organization like the BCA that was lacrosse-based wouldn’t be bad, either. However, with the IMLCA already doing work, creating a separate entity just doesn’t make all the much sense.
Current Head Coaches Need to Have a Hand in Change
Truth be told, current head coaches at all levels need to do more to help increase the diversity among their own profession. And while many college coaches have done great work in helping to push this game forward, there is more that can be done.
Whether it is helping a minority player get into coaching and being a mentor for them or advocating for a minority coach that deserves to get a look for a high-profile job when it comes open, or hiring a young grad assistant or volunteer assistant who is a minority, current college coaches can do more across the board to help push for change in this game.
When bigtime coaches whom many of us respect says something, the lacrosse world listens. Those coaches who make you stop and listen every time they have something to say have the ear of the sport, as a whole, and they must learn how to use that privilege as best they can to help invoke the change that we want to see in a game.