Don't look now, but the Eye of Sauron has turned its gaze upon the hiring practices of the Big Ten. I guess it is somebody else's time to squirm underneath the media spotlight.
Now, I'm no fan of ESPN - a network that seems to revel in ginning up false outrage and feeding the celebrity machine. But, I also love to see the Big Ten get taken out behind the woodshed for a bit. No conference is so certain of its moral superiority, and I'm not gonna lie, I enjoy a bit of schadenfreude.
The SEC has spent most of my life fending off charges of institutional racism. It's not an entirely unfair charge, given the legacy of Jim Crow in the south and the SEC's reluctance to integrate. That was a long time ago, but it's not so long ago that there aren't football fans who can't remember those days.
So, usually, the SEC is your go-to conference for whenever some pundit once to make a point about racial politics. Why not? It's worked for fifty years, no reason to stop now. It was a huge story when the SEC hired its first African-American head coach, Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State. There were the standard stories decrying the SEC's hiring practices, and everyone moved on once the season started.
But a funny thing happened once the media spotlight moved on to shine onto other things. The Big Ten finished patting themselves on the back for what progressive thinkers they are and promptly stopped hiring African-American head coaches. The SEC kept hiring minority candidates.
Croom got fired (unfairly in my opinion), but of the 12 total African-American coaches in whatever they call Division 1-A football these days, three of them work in the SEC. That's right, the SEC is now your beacon of racially progressive hiring practices. In your face, Big Ten.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten schools have not hired an African-American head coach since 2002. The Big Ten and Big Twelve have, collectively, as many African-American head football coaches as LSU (that would be zero, for those of you scoring at home).
If the SEC hadn't hired an African-American head coach in a decade, can you imagine the media tsunami? In fact, we don't have to imagine that hard. Auburn was roundly criticized for hiring Gene Chizik instead of Turner Gill. Charles Barkley publicly accused his alma mater of racism, and this wasn't an unpopular opinion.
In retrospect, we all owe Auburn a bit of an apology. Chizik won a national title and Gill proceeded to drive Kansas' program off a cliff, losing his job this year. Auburn was taken to task for passing over a qualified African-American candidate, but, er... it seems they made the correct decision.
Anyway, the point here is not that the Big Ten are a bunch of racists. They aren't. But no minority head coaching hires in a decade is getting near the point of ridiculous. Perhaps our Yankee friends will remember this fact before they causally accuse the SEC of racism in the future. I highly doubt it, but it's a hope.
There will come a day when we won't play counting games with minority head coaching hires. We're pretty much at that point in the NFL. It's no longer news when a minority candidate gets hired. However, that didn't just magically happen. It required effort and people actually paying attention to teams' hiring practices.
Also, what helped is ruthless competition. The SEC, like the NFL, is an arms race. Athletic Directors get fired for making a bad head coaching decision, which is defined strictly by one metric: Wins. The AD's in the SEC really only have time to worry about winning, so the pressure is immense to simply hire the best candidate, regardless of anything else. Fans will back a winner, and ruthlessly attack a loser.
College football's not there yet, but it is getting better. After all, we can't all be as enlightened as the SEC. The SEC didn't set out to hire more African-American head coaches than anyone else, it just happened as a byproduct of the arms race. We don't care about race anymore, we care about wins. If James Franklin went 0-11, even Vanderbilt would've canned him.
And that's equality.