Keith Gill hired by Sun Belt, becomes first-ever African-American FBS conference commissioner

March 12, 2015 - Sun Belt Conference logo during the game between Arkansas Little Rock and South Alabama at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, LA. South Alabama defeated Arkansas Little Rock 57-55. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Sun Belt made history Tuesday, hiring Keith Gill as commissioner. Gill is the first-ever African-American hired as an FBS conference commissioner. (Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Sun Belt Conference made history with the hiring of its new commissioner.

The league announced Tuesday that it has hired Keith Gill to replace the retiring Karl Benson. Gill, most recently the executive associate commissioner of the Atlantic 10, becomes the first-ever African American commissioner of an FBS conference. The FBS represents the highest level of Division I athletics.

“Keith is a proven leader with deep experience across the many dimensions of intercollegiate athletics. Combining that with his passion, integrity and enthusiasm, Keith will be an outstanding leader as the Sun Belt continues on its rising trajectory,” said Sun Belt president Mark P. Becker.

Added Gill: “I am honored and excited to have been selected as the Commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference and I am grateful to President Becker and all of the Sun Belt presidents and chancellors for allowing me this opportunity.”

Gill has an array of experience in college athletics. Before his time in the A-10, he was the athletic director at Richmond and American, spending five years at each school. Gill also had stints in the athletic departments at Oklahoma and Vanderbilt and has extensive experience with the NCAA, including two stints working in the national office.

Before beginning his professional career, Gill played four seasons as a running back at Duke.

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Lack of diversity in college athletics

Before the hire of Gill, all 10 FBS conference commissioners were white with one woman — Conference USA’s Judy MacLeod (hired in Oct. 2015) — among the group.

According to the most recent report from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), 28 of the 30 commissioners from Division I conferences, excluding Historically Black Conferences, were white, including nine women. When hired by the West Coast Conference in April 2018, Gloria Nevarez became the first Latino, male or female, to become a Division I conference commissioner.

The lack of diversity extends into coaching, too, especially at the top levels of competition. As Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde wrote last week, just one of the NCAA tournament teams from a Power Six conference has an African-American head coach: Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton. That’s a drop-off from eight minority coaches from Power Six conferences in last year’s NCAA tournament. This year, there are five from outside the Power Six.

According to the 2017-18 TIDES report, white men “dominated the head coaching ranks on men’s teams holding 86.2 percent, 87.4 percent, and 91.4 percent of all head coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively” while the percentage of African-American head coaches increased in Divisions I and II, and decreased in Division III.

“African-Americans held 7.8 percent, 4.6 percent, and 4.9 percent of the men’s head coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively compared to 2016-2017 when African-Americans held 7.6 percent, 4.4 percent, and 5.0 percent in Divisions I, II, and III, respectively,” the report says.

In women’s sports, whites “held 85.0 percent, 85.6 percent, and 90.9 percent of the head coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III” while African-Americans “held 7.3 percent, 5.5 percent, and 4.9 percent of the women’s head coaching positions in Divisions I, II, and III.”

To read the TIDES report, click here.

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