NEW ORLEANS (AP) -When Ohio State and LSU face off in the BCS championship game Monday night, some of the best on the field will be black players.
Glenn Dorsey. Beanie Wells. Kirston Pittman. Brian Robiskie. Early Doucet. Vernon Gholston.
Then check out the sidelines. They might as well put out a ``Whites Only'' sign for the guys running the teams.
College football is stuck in a time warp, stubbornly hanging on to a segregated system that largely keeps minorities from landing the top coaching jobs.
Oh sure, every school has at least one or two black coaches on its staff, but they are generally limited to anonymous position jobs such as running backs coach or secondary coach - spots that tend to have a large number of minority players.
``Ever since I've been in coaching, there's been that frustration ... of not feeling like you can reach the pinnacle of your career in terms of being a head coach,'' said LSU assistant head coach Larry Porter.
With another hiring season nearly complete, college football is left with just six black coaches among the 119 schools in the NCAA's top division - the same number as this season.
Those sort of figures sound like something out of the Jim Crow era, not a year when a black man is making a serious bid to become president of the United States.
``Pathetic,'' said Richard Lapchick, a sports sociologist at Central Florida. ``When I met Eddie Robinson in 1997 to start work on an autobiography with him, there were eight African-American coaches. When I spoke at his funeral this year, there were only six. Eight was the all-time high, and even then it was low. Now, it's even more so.''
The two BCS finalists mirror the sport in general. Ohio State has a white head coach, Jim Tressel, and two white coordinators.
Same for LSU, which has Les Miles at head coach and white men running both the offense and defense.
While Porter has the important-sounding title of assistant head coach, his main responsibility is coaching running backs. Gary Crowton directs the offense, with Miles getting the final say.
The Buckeyes and Tigers are hardly alone.
Schools playing in BCS bowls were 10-for-10 when it came to having white coaches, and just three had coordinators of color.
One was Kevin Sumlin, the co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and the only black man to be hired as a head coach for 2008. He took over at Houston after Oklahoma's loss to West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.
Then there are guys such as Porter and Georgia's highly regarded recruiting coordinator, Rodney Garner.
Between them, they have 28 years of coaching experience. Between them, they have zero interviews for a top job.
``You'd like to see a system where everyone is judged on their own merit,'' Garner said before the Bulldogs defeated Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, held on the same field where the national title will be decided. ``Do I think my resume is comparable to some? Yeah, I do.''
Yet, Garner continues to wait for an opportunity that might never come, at least under the current system where influential boosters - nearly all of them rich white men - have a major say in who runs the football program.
It's the ultimate old boy's network, with deals being hammered out at whites-only country clubs or exclusive golf courses.
``I don't know if there's a resistance to hiring black coaches, but I do know that people are more comfortable hiring people they know,'' Porter said. ``I think that's most of it.''
The Black Coaches and Administrators association has led the fight to bring more diversity to the coaching ranks, yelling and screaming about the low numbers, getting the support of NCAA president Myles Brand, but making little real progress in changing the way business is done.
The BCA is now threatening to file a federal civil rights lawsuit, hoping to do for black coaches what Title IX did for women's athletics.
Lapchick has his own idea, proposing an ``Eddie Robinson Rule'' that would be similar to NFL guidelines requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate in every coaching search.
The ``Rooney Rule'' has certainly worked well for the pros, who last year had the first Super Bowl with two black head coaches, Tony Dungy of Indianapolis and Lovie Smith of Chicago. The NFL ended this regular season with seven black head coaches among its 32 teams - one more than the major college ranks, even though there's only about a fourth as many jobs.
``We need to force schools to look at more African-American coaches,'' Lapchick said. ``Yes, some of them would get bogus interviews. Yes, some schools would do it just because that's what they have to do. But in the NFL, after that rule was passed, the owners started meeting coaches they never would have met before. They started to realize, 'Hey, some of these guys really fit the mission of what we're trying to do. Hey, let's give 'em a shot.'
``Look what happened: We ended up with two African-American coaches in the Super Bowl.''
Garner doesn't think such a rule would be nearly as effective at the college ranks, where so many more people tend to be involved in the hiring - and firing - of football coaches.
``There's just too many power players in college football, with the alumni and all the different people, the different factors,'' he said. ``In the NFL, it's usually one or two people in the decision-making process. It's totally different in college. It's not even applicable. I think it would have zero chance to work.''
Porter disagrees. He feels the most effective way to break down the barriers is to at least get a foot in the door.
``Every time you put yourself in position to get an interview, whether you get the job or not, it makes you better in terms of experience to get the next one that comes along,'' he said. ``You may have a greater opportunity to get it because you know what to expect.''
The players, even black players, seem largely oblivious to the whole situation.
``That's not something we sit down and talk about,'' said Robiskie, Ohio State's top receiver and the son of NFL coach Terry Robiskie, who once served as Washington's interim head coach at the end of the 2000 season.
Added Dorsey, LSU's defensive star: ``A great coach is a great coach, no matter what race he is. That's the biggest thing to me.''
Lapchick said he doubts there will be any real progress until a powerhouse program such as LSU or Ohio State takes a chance on a black coach. For the most part, the only schools willing to hire minorities have been those that are down and out, setting them up for failure.
Just look at the rugged path taken by the country's most prominent black head coach, Sylvester Croom.
He first interviewed at his alma mater, Alabama, after the abrupt firing of Mike Price. Even though Croom met one of that school's most important criteria (he played for Bear Bryant), had more experience than the only other candidate and, by all accounts, was much more impressive in the interview process, the job went to Mike Shula, who, of course, is white.
Shula lasted only four years before he was dumped, while Croom was hired the next season by lowly Mississippi State, becoming the first black football coach in Southeastern Conference history.
Croom struggled through his first three years, winning only nine games total, but the Bulldogs improved to 8-5 this year, including a victory over Alabama and a Liberty Bowl triumph against Central Florida.
Still, if anyone thought Croom's success might lead to more opportunities, they were mistaken.
Houston, hardly one of the country's elite programs, was the only school willing to hire a black coach.
That ``Whites Only'' sign is still out.

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