Myles Brand and the Illusion of Reform

Myles BrandAlthough NCAA president Myles Brand has just passed away, it is not too early to comment on his legacy in the world of big-time college sports.  When he was appointed to his position in 2002, those who believed that the NCAA was in need of serious reform were delighted.  Brand was then president of the Indiana University and had previously been president of the University of Oregon and provost at Ohio State.

Not only was Brand the first college president to appointed to head the NCAA, he also possessed impeccable academic credentials.  He held a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester, and had previously been a faculty member at the Universities of Pittsburgh, Illinois-Chicago, and Arizona.  Although he was a fan of sports, he had never been an athlete or a coach of any consequence.  (He played freshman basketball and lacrosse at small college RPI but apparently wasn’t good enough for the varsity.)  Moreover, he had proved his ability to stand up to the goliath that is college sports when as president of Indiana University he fired highly successful basketball coach Bobby Knight for repeatedly boorish behavior.

Unfortunately, Brand turned out to be a disappointment for those who hoped that he might usher in an era of real reform in college athletics.

He leaves the NCAA pretty much as he found it, an economic powerhouse characterized by sharp distinctions between rich and poor, with the rich reaping the benefits of ever-increasing television revenue and exploiting the skills of young athletes, only a few of whom are able to continue their careers at the professional level.  When he assumed office the schools with the strongest commitments to men’s football and basketball were engaged in a seemingly endless “arms race” characterized by larger and larger stadiums and arenas, and by high profile coaches paid more and more money each year.  At the time of his death, the arms race continued unabated.

Media outlets have responded to Brand’s death by emphasizing his commitment to reform.  According to the Indianapolis Star, “Brand elevated academics [and] put athletics in perspective.”   Sports Business Daily reported he left a “legacy focused on academic reform in the NCAA,” while the Associated Press praised the fact that he “worked to change the perception that wins supersede academics and earned accolades for his efforts.”  Kind words, but words that should acknowledge that if these were his goals he largely failed in such efforts.

When one asks what Brand actually accomplished as director of the NCAA, it is difficult to point to any truly significant reform.  While it is true that he continued the process of tightening academic standards for athletes and placing greater emphasis on graduation for athletes, it would be disingenuous to claim that during his years at the helm student athletes were held to the same academic standards as ordinary students, for it is clear that they were not.

While there is no consensus among academic reformers as to what NCAA rule changes are necessary, a reform-minded director might have pushed for:

  • Salary caps for coaches.
  • Requirements that coaches be members of the faculty.
  • A return to earlier limitations on the number of regular season games in football and basketball.
  • Greater revenue-sharing of broadcast income among all NCAA members regardless of the division in which they participated.
  • The repeal of the advantages given to members of the so-called BCS conferences in regard to the determination of the national college football champion.
  • Abolition of the distinction between Division I, FBS teams and Division 1, FCS in college football.
  • Reductions in the number of athletic grants-in-aid available to NCAA members.
  • A new classification system that grouped schools on the basis of their enrollments rather than the size of their athletic budgets.
  • Congressional approval of an antitrust exemption for college athletics that would remove doubts regarding the legality of “anti-commercial” regulations.

It is of course true that the president of the NCAA could not unilaterally implement such changes, but there is no evidence that Brand ever committed himself to such innovations.  In spite of all of his talk about academic integrity and amateurism, he was basically a supporter of the existing system.   While Brand denounced “commercialism gone wild” in one of his final speeches, he was always careful to point out that he was not an opponent of commercialism in college sports.  In fact, he regularly encouraged NCAA schools to seek out new forms of revenue.  As he frequently put it, college sports could not survive without commercial activity.

In his final remarks at the 2009 NCAA convention (read in his absence by aid Wallace Renfro), Brand warned against the “extremes of unrealistic idealism” as well as the dangers of excessive commercialism.

Myles Brand was a capable president of the NCAA, and he may well have been an improvement over his predecessors, but he was never the visionary reformer that some of his fans made him out to be.   We are still waiting for the first “idealistic” president of the NCAA.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. David R. Papke

    Your comments on Myles Brand’s work as the head of the NCAA are well taken, but I will forever be grateful for his willingness to stand up to Bob Knight while both were at Indiana University. Basketball is curiously important in Indiana’s state consciousness, and Knight made himself into a virtual godhead in the state by winning national championships. However, he also demonstrated time and again that he was an interpersonal tyrant, and he was also prone to wild outbursts and threats. His sexism in particular was boorish. I was on the Indiana faculty at the time and was frequently troubled by Knight’s conduct. I’m so old-fashioned as to think coaches should be role models and educators and concluded Knight was an abject failure on both counts. When I watched the television newscast in which Brand courageously showed Knight the door, I rose from my seat and applauded.

  2. Josh Byers

    Well, as an Indiana native who began watching IU basketball before tuning into Sesame Street, or anything else for that matter, the mention of Myles Brand stirs many of my emotions. Without too much commentary, out of respect for President Brand’s death, I couldn’t disagree more with Professor Papke’s admiration for Myles Brand “courageously” firing Bob Knight.

    We can argue all day about whether Bob Knight is a pig (I don’t think it’s quite as simple as Prof. Papke may believe) or how many times he deserved to be fired, but I think it is safe to say that if you ask most people with knowledge of the situation they would say that President Brand always had his eye on firing Knight for Brand’s own benefit. In fact, many would say that President Brand would not have gotten the NCAA job if it wasn’t for the firing of Knight. I am not blind to the fact that Knight could have been, and likely should have been fired several times over during his IU tenure. However, the incident “justifying” Knight’s dismissal was nonsense (apparently Knight confronted an IU student in Assembly Hall who made a somewhat snide remark to the Coach and the Coach told him about it–the student, by the way, was the son of a sports reporter in Indiana who is known for antagonizing Knight during his tenure). Given his reasoning for the firing and the fact that he abandoned IU a short time later, Myles Brand’s motivation for firing Bob Knight was not pure; instead, it was a self-motivated, career-promoting opportunity that President Brand wasn’t going to pass up.

    He may have been a great man with outstanding credentials, but his work at IU and, in particular, firing Bob Knight left much to be desired for all, other than those who always desired that Knight be gone from Bloomington.

  3. Will Pridemore

    I think that anyone who works in NCAA athletics would disagree with your assertion that Myles Brand did not usher in any significant reform. First, the university presidents are now the main power brokers within the NCAA, not the athletics directors. Second, there were significant academic reforms created under Brand, namely the Academic Performance Program, which includes the Academic Progress Rate (APR), and the Graduation Success Rate(GSR). I work in intercollegiate athletics, and I can guarantee that the APR is on the daily conscience of both coaches and administrators. There is real teeth in the APR penalties, including lost scholarships, having to replace practice time with academic sessions, the ability of one struggling team to prevent all of a university’s teams from participating in NCAA championships. Starting this year, there will be a head coach APR portfolio that will track APR performance at all schools in which he or she served as head coach. This will be publicly available, so both prospective student-athletes and their parents will be able to see how committed a head coach is to academic success. Also, there are now progress toward degree requirements that help to curb the phenomenon of athletes majoring in eligibility.

    The NCAA under Brand also made strides in improving Student-Athlete welfare. The creation of the Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund and the Special Assistance Fund helps to compensate for the fact that a full grant-in-aid does not meet the actual cost of attendance.

    I don’t disagree with your claim that there were missed opportunities for reform under Brand, but I wholly disagree with your claim that Brand’s tenure was a “disappointment.”

  4. Kristen Knauf

    Considering that Myles Brand took over as the president of the NCAA during a tumultuous time where it seemed commonplace that athletics were given priority over academics, I think that he did a commendable job of reform, especially with the creation of the APR and the GSR.

    The Presidential Task Force on the Future of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics did a great job of articulating issues that affect the core of intercollegiate athletics programs as they exist today. I was particularly intrigued by the Task Force’s discussion of ensuring that student-athletes integrate into the general student population. Nevertheless, after speaking with several former football players who played at a Division I university, it is obvious that the NCAA mantra of “academics is number one, athletics is number two” is still undermined by the actions of the coaches and training staff who emphasize athletics being a student-athlete’s first priority. The immense amount of academic resources allotted to student-athletes that are not always readily available to the rest of the student population (free tutoring, note-taking services, past exams on file for review, etc.) perpetuates the image that student-athletes are somehow above the rest of the population.

    There is still a lot of work to be done before the general public will feel that a genuine reform has been made, but President Brand accomplished a lot by bringing many issues to light and providing a forum for discussion of reform.

  5. Robert King

    In my opinion Myles Brand was merely using his time at IU as a stepping stone. First, he fired the most successful football coach in school history. Next, he needed someone more famous. He put a False Flag operation in play to set up coach Knight. The student who made the allegations is the son of a long-time Knight critic. There was NO evidence the event happened. It is obvious this kid was sent out to disrespect Coach for Brand to run his act. Coach Knight should have been treated better, Brand should have been fired because Coach played by the rules and that makes Brand a walking contradiction. Coach had an anger issue but this is not a reason to fire someone who gave so much to IU. Brand was of very little significance to IU and NCAA, except for ruining IU basketball for my generation! I happen to know, you reap what you sow, thanks for nada Myles.

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