An Oregon House committee approved a bill Friday that would make the state the first in the nation to require public universities to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring athletic directors or head coaches.

The Associated Press

SALEM — An Oregon House committee approved a bill Friday that would make the state the first in the nation to require public universities to interview at least one minority candidate when hiring athletic directors or head coaches.

The bill passed unanimously in the House Education Committee, with one representative calling the legislation substantial and "one of the bigger things we've done in this body."

The bill still has a way to go before it becomes law — the full House is its next stop — but its outlook is good given the support it received in committee.

Indeed, Rep. Ron Maurer, a Republican from Grants Pass, had missed the vote, but members of the committee went through the trouble of suspending the rules to allow him his "aye."

"It's a big deal," he said after the hearing. "Oregon is the first state to take this sort of action."

When the legislation first came before the committee, it applied to only head football coaches, but Maurer and others thought that didn't go nearly far enough. So they expanded the bill. "In the field of athletics you have qualified candidates across the board," Maurer said.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, a Portland Democrat, introduced the bill after a constituent suggested he take it up. "It makes so much sense," he said, given the poor track record college athletics has with hiring people of color.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida monitors such statistics and releases a yearly report card. Last year's numbers were dismal, according to the institute.

Whites, the report said, still "dominate key positions" in college athletics. Nearly 89 percent of top positions in Divisions I, II and III are held by whites. Those posts include university presidents, athletics directors, head coaches, associate athletics directors, faculty athletics reps and sports information directors.

Division I men's head basketball coaching positions seems to be an exception. That category got an 'A' in the study whereas overall college sports — taking into account both gender and race — received a 'C+.'

A 2003 NFL rule that requires a minority interviews has helped make headway with the same problem in that league.

"This is such a simple solution," Greenlick said. "I thought it was really time."

During a public hearing last week nobody spoke against the bill, though some university officials have since said that while they support the intent, they worry about applying it as a practical matter.

"I don't disagree with what we're trying to get to. Not at all," said Jon Carey, the athletic director at Western Oregon University. "My concern has nothing to do with the intent. It only has to do with the operation. The logistics of it."

Western Oregon University, he said, already makes diversifying its staff a top priority. When positions become available, the university advertises in sources that "minority candidates can access and do frequent." After that it's out of the university's hands, Carey said.

"Unless they self-disclose (race), then we can't tell," Carey said. "If I had a candidate who looks very good to us and we're interested in, by the name of Robert Johnson, how do I know if that person is of a racial minority or not? I just don't know."

Others have worried about whether the measure would lead to token minority interviews, which led the committee to add that the minority applicant had to be "qualified." If there are no qualified minority applicants, the university would get a pass, Greenlick said.

In any case, he doesn't by the "tokenism" argument in the least. The bill doesn't require the university to hire a minority candidate, just to interview one. Greenlick said he talked to minority football coaches before introducing the bill, and they weren't worried about any appearance of tokenism, either.

"Just give me a chance," he remembers them saying. "Tokenism or not, give me a shot and I'll win them."

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The measure is HB 3118.