England’s Football League is getting itself a Rooney Rule

In 2003, the National Football League (the American kind of football, with the battle armor and unsavory amounts of Gatorade flavor options) created what was dubbed the “Rooney Rule.” Named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner and chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee Dan Rooney, the rule’s objective was to increase the number of non-white candidates considered for coaching and front office jobs. The NFL mandates that when such a position becomes available, teams are required to hold a formal interview with at least one minority candidate before making a hiring decision.

England’s Football League (levels two through four on England’s soccer pyramid) has proposed a set of guidelines similar to the Rooney Rule. The changes, as laid out by the league board, would have to be voted on by member clubs at the league’s annual meeting in 2016 before going into effect and would begin with the 2016-17 season. Dan Rooney was involved with helping to create the framework for the new hiring policies.

The Football League should:

– Introduce mandatory new recruitment practices in Academy football that would make it compulsory for clubs to interview at least one BAME candidate (where an application has been received) for all youth development roles requiring a minimum of a UEFA B coaching licence. The League should also set a target of between 10% and 20% (to be agreed in due course) of these positions being filled by BAME coaches by 2019.

– Adopt a Voluntary Recruitment Code for first-team football under which clubs would commit to interview a BAME candidate (where an application has been received) for any managerial or coaching position except in the specific instance of an individual being recruited from another club on terms agreed between the two parties. It is anticipated this would be piloted by five to 10 clubs during 2016/17 ahead of wider adoption.

– Work with relevant stakeholders to introduce processes aimed at identifying current BAME coaches and players with the potential and aspiration to coach in professional football. This would include the creation of a ‘ready-list’ of qualified candidates to be used by clubs when recruiting.

– Cooperate with stakeholders to upskill potential candidates and provide suitable networking opportunities with club decision makers.

Though it’s comprised of 72 teams, the Football League only features four black managers at present.* Under it’s new proposed rules, clubs would be required to interview at least one certified “black, asian and minority ethnic” or “BAME” (a fairly ridiculous, yet officially recognized term used in the United Kingdom) candidate during the hiring process of all senior and youth developmental coaching and managerial positions. Efforts would be made to increase the level of identification and recruitment of new and interested minority candidates, including a “ready-list” of qualified minority candidates that will be made available to clubs with open positions.

The reaction to these rules will almost certainly by positive, at least publicly. There will be the occasional rogue moron who tries to lob a few angry “if they were qualified, they’d get hired” or “it’s not real equality if it’s forced” rhetoric logs onto the fire, but those people aren’t very smart, refuse to acknowledge certain complex truths about the world and generally don’t matter anyway.

But rules like this are a double-edged sword. Obviously, a CBR (Coaching Blackness Ratio — not a technical term) of 5.5 percent doesn’t adequately reflect the diversity of the Football League’s player pool, fans or England’s general population, so a change is necessary. It would be better if that change was organic and cultural instead of an edict from on high.

In his comments in praise of the proposal, chairman Greg Clarke said “I am in no doubt, whatsoever, that our clubs make employment decisions for managerial and coaching positions on the basis of merit alone. They do so because they believe the relevant individuals are the right people to take their club forward.” While I understand the politics that would force him to say such a thing, that’s an incredibly disingenuous statement. If Clarke truly believed in the integrity of his league’s owners, none of these rules would be on the table.

On one hand, requirements like the Rooney Rule can broaden the minds of club ownership. Being obligated to speak with well-qualified minority candidates will prove to them that their preconceived notions of a person’s capabilities based on race, ethnicity or nationality (not synonyms) is plain bullshit. On the other hand, resentment is easy to build, and people don’t like being told what to do, least of all people wealthy enough to own professional soccer teams. For example, when the requirement of minority interviews was proposed previously, Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston said it was “an absolute insult to people in football.”

Assuming some version on these rules are enacted in 2016, it will lead to two other obvious and necessary conversations, “What about the Premier League (which doesn’t fall under the Football League’s purview)” and “What about women?” Rooney Rule-style changes to the lower leagues of England are more of an introduction than a happy ending. While it’s great to be optimistic about what these new policies could mean for English soccer, don’t be too hasty about bringing out the balloons and assorted ethnic desserts in celebration.

* Reliable statistics — either because they aren’t counted properly, or because “BAME” is a stupidly ambiguous term — on the percentage of non-black minority coaching and managerial hires in the Football League aren’t readily available.