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Colleges

The lack of Black leaders in New England college sports is ‘what institutional and systemic racism look like’

Charlie Titus was hired as UMass Boston's first athletic director in 1980 (he recently retired), and since then he has seen little progress in the hiring of minority candidates in the region.
Charlie Titus was hired as UMass Boston's first athletic director in 1980 (he recently retired), and since then he has seen little progress in the hiring of minority candidates in the region.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

For 40 years, Charlie Titus witnessed up close one of the starkest racial inequities in American sports.

From the summer of 1980, when he became UMass Boston’s first athletic director, until he retired in June, Titus could count on one hand the number of Black men and women running intercollegiate athletic departments in New England.

He watched year after year as universities that profit from the performances of Black student-athletes passed over qualified Black candidates to manage their athletic departments. He pushed for change, but it came, at best, in baby steps.

“It amazes me that these barriers have not been broken down by now,” Titus said. “It’s a prime example of what institutional and systemic racism look like.”

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A Globe survey of 112 colleges and universities in New England found that only five, or 4.5 percent, employ a Black athletic director. Just one of the region’s 15 Division 1 athletic departments has a Black leader: Marcus Blossom at Holy Cross.

“It amazes me that these barriers have not been broken down by now. It’s a prime example of what institutional and systemic racism look like.”

On Aug. 17, Division 2 Bentley University named Vaughn Williams, a senior administrator at Boston College, as its first Black AD. The other Black athletic directors in New England manage lower-budget operations at Division 3 schools: Anthony Grant at MIT, Lauren Haynie at Brandeis, and Darlene Gordon, Titus’s interim replacement at UMass Boston.

The diversity deficit is brought into sharper relief by the current reckoning with racial injustice across American culture. Not one public college or university in New England other than UMass Boston employs a Black athletic director, and scores of public and private institutions do not have a single Black head coach in any intercollegiate sport.

The razor-thin ranks of Black head football coaches in the region are similarly striking. Of the 23 Division 1 and Division 2 football teams in New England, none is led by a Black coach, despite Black players representing majorities on some rosters. In all, there are 58 collegiate football programs in the region and only two are led by Black head coaches: Division 3 Bates College in Maine and the US Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.

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Diversity specialists expressed deep frustration.

“There are too many qualified people to count who have been passed over,” said Peter Roby, Northeastern University’s first Black AD, who led the department from 2007 until he retired in 2018. He has since helped to build the NCAA’s Pathway leadership development program for athletic administrators.

Roby has advocated for diversity in athletic leadership since he cocaptained the Dartmouth basketball team in the 1970s, coached Harvard’s men’s basketball team in the 1980s and early ’90s, and directed Northeastern’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society in the early 2000s.

“We’re at the point where the Black community is saying, ‘We’ve been talking about this for generations and the needle has hardly moved,’ ” Roby said. “People have had enough.”

Glacial pace of progress

Athletic directors play central roles in the big business of intercollegiate sports. They control budgets that can exceed $80 million at highly competitive schools such as BC and oversee staffs that range from 50 employees at smaller schools to more than 250 at the largest. They are responsible for marketing, fund-raising, facility operations, and compliance with NCAA and government regulations, among other duties.

In New England, the scarcity of Black athletic directors is more pronounced than elsewhere in the nation. According to NCAA data, in 2019 there were Black athletic directors at 115, or 10.3 percent, of the NCAA’s 1,113 member schools — more than double the rate of New England schools.

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Even if 45 Historically Black Colleges and Universities are removed from the equation, the national rate of Black athletic directors at NCAA schools is 6.6 percent — nearly 50 percent higher than the rate in New England.

“The percentages tell the true story,” said former Patriots player Garin Veris, who became Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s first Black athletic director in 2015, and served until 2018. “What’s going on in New England is really sad.”

Peter Roby is a rarity in that he was Northeastern's athletic director from 2007-18.
Peter Roby is a rarity in that he was Northeastern's athletic director from 2007-18.The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

The NCAA does not break down the racial composition of collegiate teams by region. Nationally, 21 percent of Division 1 student-athletes last year were Black. Overall, they made up 16 percent of intercollegiate rosters, from football and basketball to sailing and equestrian teams.

Particularly troubling to diversity specialists has been the glacial pace of progress in hiring Black ADs and head coaches. While other minorities, such as Hispanics and Asians, and women have made gains, Blacks have made far fewer.

“I look back over the years, and I pretty much see now what I saw then,” said Stan Johnson, executive director of the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association.

Openings at BC, UMass

BC took a major step in 2017 by hiring Martin Jarmond as its first Black AD. A former deputy athletic director at Ohio State, Jarmond, at 37, became the youngest AD at any of the 65 schools in the NCAA’s Power Five conferences.

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Martin Jarmond left BC for the AD job at UCLA earlier this year.
Martin Jarmond left BC for the AD job at UCLA earlier this year.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Jarmond excelled at BC before he departed in May for a more prestigious position as the athletic director at UCLA. But because Jarmond replaced another minority at UCLA and BC hired a white male to replace him, the moves were seen by diversity advocates as a step backward.

“It was a great move for Martin, but a loss for diversity,” Johnson said. “When minorities move into bigger roles and they aren’t replaced with minorities, that’s a problem.”

BC declined to identify its finalists for the job, but the college chose Patrick Kraft from Temple over two Black prospects Jarmond had recruited to its athletic department — Vaughn Williams and another senior associate AD, Jocelyn Fisher Gates — and considered other minority candidates.

Vaughn Williams was recently hired as the AD at Bentley. He was passed over for the top job at Boston College when Martin Jarmond left.
Vaughn Williams was recently hired as the AD at Bentley. He was passed over for the top job at Boston College when Martin Jarmond left.Bentley University athletics

Jack Dunn, BC’s associate vice president for communications, said, “Black candidates were interviewed for the AD position and the finalist pool was very diverse. Ultimately, we hired Pat Kraft because he was the best candidate.”

BC has 23 head coaches on its staff, only one of whom is Black: women’s soccer coach Jason Lowe.

“As with many colleges in the Greater Boston area, we continue to struggle to find diverse candidates [for our teams],” Dunn said.

In 2015, UMass Amherst had a chance to join BC in breaking a color barrier when its athletic director’s position opened. The school settled on three finalists: Ryan Bamford, a senior associate AD at Georgia Tech; Jim Fiore, a former AD at Stony Brook University; and Allen Greene, an associate AD at the University of Buffalo, the only Black finalist.

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Bamford was the most familiar candidate, with deep roots in New England collegiate sports. His father, Steve Bamford, served as athletic director at Plymouth State for 13 years, then spent more than a decade as an administrator for the ECAC.

Ryan Bamford followed his father by serving in the athletic administrations at Plymouth State and the ECAC. He also worked in athletic departments at Springfield College, the University of New Hampshire, Yale, and Georgia Tech, building a solid résumé.

Fiore’s stock dropped on news that he had been fired at Stony Brook in 2013 after a female subordinate’s harassment complaint. He denied the allegation.

Of the candidates, Greene was seen as the most charismatic. A former baseball star at Notre Dame, he had played several minor league seasons in the New York Yankees organization before beginning his administrative career in Notre Dame’s athletic department. He also worked as an assistant AD at the University of Mississippi before moving to Buffalo.

Ultimately, UMass hired Bamford, disappointing diversity advocates.

“It’s not that Bamford wasn’t qualified or well-prepared, but when you stack him up against Greene and you have a chance to make a minority hire, especially in a place where you haven’t done it, that was an interesting choice to me,“ Titus said.

Greene was named AD at the University of Buffalo soon after missing out on the UMass job. In 2018, he became the first Black AD at Auburn University, where he manages a Power Five program with a $152 million budget, more than triple the $40 million UMass budget. Greene declined to comment for this story.

In Amherst, Bamford has had five years to diversify the UMass coaching staff. But with several high-profiles positions open, he chose white candidates for the football and men’s and women’s basketball positions.

In all, Bamford has hired 12 head coaches, only one of whom is Black: David Jackson, the track and field and cross-country coach. He is the only Black coach among UMass Amherst’s 16 head coaches.

“Over the last five years, we have been very intentional in building diverse candidate pools when hiring for coaching, administrative, and staff positions,” Bamford said. “We’ve had some success hiring, growing, and retaining minority staff members, but it has been a challenge to do this consistently well across our organization, including in head coaching positions.”

Mass. is not alone

The scarcity of Black head coaches is rife throughout the UMass system. Of the four public universities in the system with athletic programs — UMass Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, and Lowell — only UMass Boston has more than one Black head coach.

The shortage is even more acute at five of the state’s other four-year public institutions with athletic programs. There are no Black head coaches in any intercollegiate sport at Salem State, Fitchburg State, Westfield State, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

Diversity specialists said university leaders are responsible for creating a culture of diversity and inclusion in their athletic programs.

“If there is a commitment to diversity, it has to come from the top down,” Titus said. “It’s hard to make it happen from the bottom up.”

“We need to get out of the mentality that it’s a grand experiment” to hire Black people in athletic leadership positions, Roby said. “Don’t wait until there’s a crisis before you decide, well, we really should have more Black people on our staff.”

“We need to get out of the mentality that it’s a grand experiment. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis before you decide, well, we really should have more Black people on our staff.”

Public colleges and universities in Massachusetts are far from alone among New England institutions where diversity lags. There are no Black ADs or Black head coaches in any sport at the flagship state universities of Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont.

Moreover, there are no Black athletic directors or black head coaches at 66, or 59 percent, of the 112 colleges and universities in New England.

“In a lot of ways, it’s still an old boys network,” Titus said. “At the end of the day, they hire people they have a level of comfort with, people who look like them or are in a network they’re comfortable with.”

‘We need action now’

The NCAA was long seen as part of the problem. But the organization in the last decade has increasingly focused on developing a pipeline of qualified minority candidates for athletic leadership positions, especially through its Pathway program, which Roby has helped to build.

Titus said the pool of Black candidates who were qualified for athletic leadership positions 40 years ago was all but empty. But now, by nearly all accounts, the pool is full of choices.

“That excuse is gone,‘' Roby said. “The fact that we’re still discussing why there aren’t more Black ADs and coaches in the major sports speaks to the fact that you have very few Black and brown chancellors and presidents of universities.”

Nationwide, universities had long shown little interest in adopting a version of the Rooney Rule in the National Football League, which requires teams to interview qualified minority candidates for head coaching and senior operations positions. However, in early August the West Coast Conference became the first Division 1 conference to adopt a version of the Rooney Rule, naming it the Russell Rule after Boston Celtics legend and civil rights leader Bill Russell.

Lawmakers in Oregon also took matters into their own hands, passing a version of the rule in 2009. The results have pleased diversity advocates: The University of Oregon hired its first Black head football coach, and two public universities — Portland State and Western Oregon — hired their first Black athletic directors.

Yet Oregon remains the only state to have enacted such a law. Roby said diversity specialists are weighing other measures to hold institutions accountable for racial equity in hiring for top athletic administrative and coaching jobs. One proposal would make the hiring process subject to an independent review, with the results published in a public report. Schools that failed to adhere to minority hiring protocols would be sanctioned.

“We need action now, because people are thinking, if not now, when?” Roby said.

When the Globe last conducted a survey, in 2006, only two of the 54 athletic directors at New England colleges with football programs were Black: Sean Frazier at Merrimack and Charles Jones at Central Connecticut State. Fourteen years later, there are 58 schools in the region with football programs but only three employ Black athletic directors: Holy Cross, MIT, and now Bentley.

MORE: Read the Globe’s 2006 story about the lack of Black coaches in New England college football

Frazier, who has since become the AD at Northern Illinois University, said he finds it increasingly difficult to encourage Black students who yearn to become collegiate head coaches or athletic directors. Not only is there a “critical mass of highly qualified candidates already waiting in the wings,” he said, but job cuts may loom as athletic departments across the country suspend or in some cases eliminate sports programs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My big concern is that a lot of our young talent is feeling more and more frustrated and disenfranchised,” Frazier said.

Darlene Gordon has worked for nearly a decade to become a full-fledged collegiate athletic director, her obstacles including not only that she is Black but a woman. She has been a finalist for other positions and come tantalizingly close. Now her chance at UMass Boston draws near as the school prepares to launch a formal search for Titus’s successor.

Titus hired Gordon as a special assistant in 2018 after he discovered her talent in the NCAA’s Pathway program.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity Charlie gave me,’' Gordon said. “Hopefully, I’ll have proven myself worthy to sit in the seat permanently.‘‘

Titus said Gordon is ready, if UMass Boston is.

“Having conversations about institutional racism is one thing,” Titus said. “But the conversations won’t do any good without action.”


Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.