Chris Holtmann’s agent Jason Belzer develops plan to improve minority hiring in college sports
One by one, the NFL’s vacant head coaching positions were being filled, and the familiar pattern emerged yet again.
This was in January, and Jason Belzer decided something needed to change.
Despite the league’s Rooney Rule requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate, all five coaching openings were filled by white men. It was a pattern Belzer, an attorney who, among other things, represents coaches as an agent and includes Ohio State men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann among his clients, had seen play out all too often.
It got Belzer thinking. And working. Eight months later, it has led to what he described as the most complex and challenging project he’s ever undertaken.
Sunday night, Belzer unveiled the Collegiate Coaching Diversity Pledge. It’s a multilayered plan for athletic directors that he hopes will have more bite to it than the NFL’s Rooney Rule, one that he hopes will bring equality to the hiring process for football and men’s and women’s basketball coaches.
The goal isn’t to force-feed diverse candidates into leadership positions, Belzer said. It’s to widen the opportunity. The pledge will require athletic directors seeking to hire a head coach to include at least one finalist from both a diverse and non-diverse background.
“You’re never going to be able to make somebody hire a diverse candidate, but we can increase the pipeline,” Belzer told The Dispatch. “We feel extremely comfortable that there are no real strong legal reasons why an athletics director would not be willing to adopt this, and the fact that we have ADs from now 18 different conferences who have signed it proves that fact.
“We know we’re on the right side of history.”
Names of job finalists will then be submitted to a seven-member independent board of advocates that includes Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education, and Katrina Adams, former United States Tennis Association president. The board will decide whether the finalists were given equal consideration for the position.
Adding another layer to the process: A six-member board of coaches, one that includes Holtmann, will assist the process by working with peers in the industry to ensure compliance.
Holtmann said he felt compelled to join the fight for equality in part through dialogue with his coaching staff and players.
“I think we’re all looking for things we can do in our own sphere of influence,” he said. “What’s most critical is you’re seeing words and intent here (that) hopefully turn into real tangible action and opportunities. I love the idea behind it.”
An active listing of all athletic directors who sign the pledge will be publicly available on AthleticDirectorU.com, an organization Belzer founded. The names of finalists for jobs will not be made public, but the compliance of each university will be.
As of the launch, nearly 30 athletic directors had signed the pledge. The hope in time is to expand it to the hiring of athletic directors and assistant coaches.
Pulling the plan together required Belzer to use each of his myriad titles. A professor of sports law and organizational strategy at Rutgers, he founded the GAME, Inc. agency, is executive director of the Jewish Coaches Association and writes a sports business column for Forbes Magazine.
“Part of me says, ‘Why did it take a white Jewish kid from Brooklyn to come up with a way to solve the lack of diversity in the head coaching world in college athletics?’” Belzer said. “I also realize that I’m uniquely positioned as someone that represents coaches, that has represented more minority coaches that have become head coaches in the last decade than anyone, but also as somebody that has the relationships and credibility to have frank, open conversations with all of these other people involved with this, and bring everybody together to create something like this.”
The evolving national conversation about racial inequality in the country, spurred by the killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd by white police officers in Minneapolis, only emboldened Belzer’s belief in the project.
“If George Floyd and everything that’s going on and the conversation in our country creates an opportunity or window for us to do this, fantastic, but that was not the impetus for this,” Belzer said. “These issues that we’re facing in our society have been going on for centuries.
“It’s only now that a lot of this has come to the forefront because of the other issues that are going on.”
And now he’s doing something about it.