Introducing the Russell Rule

Current West Coast Conference commissioner Gloria Navarez speaks at the Women Leaders in Sports Conference. Shawn Calhoun/Flickr

James Salazar

Staff Writer

On Aug. 3, the West Coast Conference (WCC) released an official statement announcing the introduction of the Russell Rule, the latest move in the conference’s “We are Committed to Change” initiative. The measure looks to guide conversations and actions in pursuance of equity, diversity, and inclusion within the conference. 

Named after basketball legend and USF alumnus Bill Russell, a two-time NCAA champion at the Hilltop, an 11-time NBA champion, and a Presidential Medal of Honor recipient, the Russell Rule requires WCC institutions to “include a member of a traditionally underrepresented community” in their pool of final candidates for athletic department positions such as athletic directors and head coaches. 

In a statement to the WCC, Russell said, “It is my hope the West Coast Conference initiative will encourage other leagues and schools to make similar commitments. We need to be intentional if we’re going to make real change for people of color in leadership positions in college athletics.” 

Russell partnered with Gloria Nevarez, the fourth full-time commissioner of the WCC and the first Latinx commissioner of an NCAA Division I athletics conference, on this initiative. 

In a WCC press release, Nevarez said, “Bill Russell is the greatest basketball player and social justice advocate the nation has seen. He is a champion for change. It is our belief the WCC ‘Russell Rule’ will live up to his legacy. Our goal is that the diversity of our student-athletes is reflected in those that lead and mentor them and provides a holistic and inclusive education during their time at WCC institutions.”

In addition to the rule itself, the WCC also partnered with Richard Lapchick, the founder and director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES). With Lapchick’s help, the WCC will produce annual race and gender report cards based on the demographics at each WCC institution, as well as the WCC headquarters. 

Aside from the diversity hiring requirement, the WCC’s “We are Committed to Change” platform is built on initiatives such as education, policy making, and civic engagement. Beginning in 2020, the WCC office observes Juneteenth as an official holiday — this past June, the WCC held a conference-wide series of antiracism educational webinars for more than 500 student-athletes and more than 400 coaches and administrators. 

Changes are also taking place in the WCC’s policy-making procedure as the conference expanded its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee. Formed in 2019, the WCC committee will include representation from all 10 WCC institutions, as well as a student-athlete subcommittee with representatives from each member. 

The conference’s EDI Committee is also responsible for creating a Civic Engagement Pledge for annual voter education and registration for student-athletes with a focus on federal, state, and local elections. Information sessions on upcoming elections will be held before voter registration deadlines. 

When conference sports resume, the WCC will air its “We are Committed to Change” video message with representation from all 10 institutions prior to WCC athletic contests, WCC Network broadcasts, men’s and women’s basketball games on regional sports networks, and WCC contests on ESPN, CBS Sports Network, and Stadium. 

In an email to the Foghorn, USF Athletic Director Joan McDermott said, “It is most fitting that this West Coast Conference initiative is called ‘The Russell Rule.’ Bill Russell has lived and modeled excellence both on and off the court.” She went on to say, “He has changed the world with his commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusivity. We are delighted that his initiative will provide leadership opportunities for traditionally underrepresented communities.”

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