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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Half of the football players at 120 major colleges are African-American. But only seven of the head coaches are. Now, under a new law, Oregon is the first state that requires its public colleges to include minorities in the interview process for coaches.

From Oregon Public Broadcasting, Ethan Lindsey has the story.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ETHAN LINDSEY: On football (unintelligible) Saturdays in Eugene, Austin Stadium is considered one of the loudest places in the country.

(Soundbite of shouting)

LINDSEY: Or so says former Oregon head football coach Mike Bellotti.

Mr. MIKE BELLOTTI (Former Head Football Coach, University of Oregon): In fact, it's actually been verified by decibel readings on the field.

LINDSEY: The cheers turned to jeers earlier this year when the popular Bellotti stepped down as coach. Without going through any kind of outside interview, then-offensive coordinator Chip Kelly was hired to replace him.

Bellotti is white, as is Kelly. Bellotti was then hired as the Oregon Ducks' athletic director, also with no outside interviews. Many in the state, even Duck fans, cried foul. Partially in response, legislators here just approved a law requiring public universities interview a minority candidate for every new head-coaching job.

Dr. RICHARD LAPCHICK (Founder, Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, University of Central Florida): We've kind of reached that historic moment, and Oregon is the front-runner.

LINDSEY: Richard Lapchick is the founder of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida.

Dr. LAPCHICK: When an opening occurs for a football coach, the athletic director rarely goes into search mode. And as 95 percent of our athletic directors are also white, if they're going turn to somebody who's part of their background, it's too often going to be another white person.

LINDSEY: Pro football instituted a similar rule in 2003, after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney pushed the league to diversify. And after the Rooney rule was set up, the NFL saw a surge of minority hires.

College football has resisted the change - until now. The sport's governing body says the law could lead to token interviews and false hope, and some say the law will be challenged in court.

Attorney Mitch Baker appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Think Out Loud" talk show.

Mr. MITCH BAKER (Attorney): In this case, we're talking about a law that is discriminatory on its face.

LINDSEY: But still, Oregon's law is getting attention even in the South, where football runs deep. Alabama Democratic Representative John Rogers says if Oregon's law translates to better coaches and more wins, his state will follow. He remembers sitting in the stands of a 1970 game between Southern Cal and an all-white Alabama team. USC's African-American running back, Sam Cunningham, ran over Alabama's defense.

Representative JOHN ROGER (Democrat, Alabama): From that point on, Alabama made its business to go out and recruit black ball players. Once they see it could work - it's successful - they have a lot different attitude about hiring black coaches.

LINDSEY: Rogers has drafted a bill similar to Oregon's that he'll introduce in Alabama next year. Legislators say they hope to do the same in other state Houses around the country.

For NPR News, I'm Ethan Lindsey in Eugene, Oregon.

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