On August 13, 2012, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, along with the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, Black Coaches & Administrators and a group of college basketball coaches and administrators filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the Fisher v. University of Texas At Austin, Et Al. case. An amicus brief is a filing by an individual or group of individuals not directly involved with a case made to provide the Supreme Court additional information to assist the justices in deciding the case.
According to the amicus brief filed by the NABC, the outcome of the Fisher v. UT – Austin case has serious potential consequences to the role of diversity at college campuses nationwide. The case came to the Supreme Court by way of writ of certiorari, after it was initially filed by Fisher in 2008 and subsequently rejected by the lower courts. Fisher, a white student, was denied admission to the University of Texas. She argues that the university’s admission decision was unconstitutionally race-based, as Texas operates both race-neutral and race-based admissions programs. The state of Texas utilizes a “Top 10% Law,” whereby students graduating in the top-10 percent of their high schools are automatically granted admission to the state’s public universities, regardless of their race. For those applicants who do not obtain admission under the Top 10% Law, race may play a role in a Texas public university’s admissions decision.
Current Supreme Court precedent allows universities to use race as a positive admissions factor. While universities cannot use quota systems to promote diversity on their campuses, the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger upheld a race-conscious admissions process that also took into account numerous factors outside of race. While the NABC does not come out clearly in support of the Grutter decision in its amicus brief, one thing is certain: The NABC and its members believe that on-campus diversity is an important issue.
In making its argument in favor of using diversity considerations in the university admissions process, the NABC began by providing examples of how diversity issues have shaped college athletics and campuses. The NABC argues that sport “. . . has served to illustrate the complex challenges associated with opening doors of opportunity to individuals of all races, and to men and women alike.” The NABC uses several historical examples to illustrate this point. First, the NABC points out that until 1967, the SEC did not have any African-American players. The conference’s first African-American student-athlete, Perry Wallace faced taunts and death threats. However, his teammates and coaches supported him and ultimately, Wallace obtained his degree from Vanderbilt, a law degree from Columbia and currently teaches at American University’s Washington College of Law. In utilizing other examples of diversity in sport and teams choosing to forgo competition to take a stand against discrimination, the NABC ultimately concludes that intercollegiate athletics reaps the benefits of operating under a diversified structure.
Next, and perhaps the larger point made by the NABC, it argues that achieving true diversity is crucial for student-athletes and the broader college community. In making this argument, the NABC notes that when universities cannot use race in admissions, “the resulting student body is often such that minority student-athletes comprise a sizable portion of all the minorities on campus.” This issue presents the minority student-athletes with difficulty in integrating into the broader college community as they are “deprived of peers and role models from similar backgrounds with a diverse set of talents and interests” other than athletics. Furthermore, the NABC asserts that when a college’s minority population is made up largely of student-athletes, “it also reinforces the stereotype that members of some minority groups are all athletic or are interested primarily in sports.”
While the NABC made some compelling arguments in its amicus brief, it is to be seen whether the Supreme Court considers them. The Supreme Court is expected to hear argument in the Fisher v. UT – Austin case this fall. Its decision in the case could very likely affect the racial makeup of college campuses in the future.