INDIANAPOLIS -- The next president of the NCAA is better known as the man who fired Bob Knight than for the eight years he served as president of Indiana University, the two decades he spent as a philosophy professor or as an outdoorsman.
Dr. Myles Brand's ascent to president of the NCAA ushers in a new era.
|Myles Brand will bring a different mindset to the NCAA president's office.(AP)|
How that shift in life experience and perspective at this level changes the direction and focus of the NCAA remains to be seen. Brand has vowed to improve the overall experience for student-athletes, helping them attain both an education and increasing postgraduate opportunities.
To do so, he will have to handle the political challenges the position brings and be able to convince others of his vision for intercollegiate athletics. The one thing the Knight firing proved -- whether you like it or not -- is that Brand is a man capable of making tough, unpopular decisions.
We caught up with Brand early one December morning, two weeks before his first day on the new job. He discussed his vision for the NCAA, the possibility of a Div. I-A football playoff, the limitations of his job and even what might happen if Texas Tech wound up capturing a NCAA basketball championship.
Question: What is it about the job of NCAA president that interested you enough to make the move?
Dr. Myles Brand: It's an opportunity to have an impact at the national level on issues that are important to higher education, student-athletes, and indeed, I would suggest, to our culture as a whole.
Q: As you get close to beginning your term, what are some of the positives and what are some of the problem areas?
MB: As I look forward I am going to emphasize two things. I am going to continue the momentum of the reform movement in order to fully integrate college athletics into the academic mission of universities and colleges. And secondly, I want to focus on the positive value of college sports.
There are problems of course. Most especially in the high visibility men's revenue sports. But those problems have overshadowed the positive values of intercollegiate athletics on many levels. From the Division III swimming and lacrosse games to many of the Division I games for women, track athletes and many others.
I want to balance the advocacy of intercollegiate athletics with the reform movement.
Q: Explain what you mean by the "reform movement?"
MB: Starting with the Knight Commission report of 1981, it became clear that college and university presidents need to take control both on their own campuses as well as the national level in order to enhance the academic progress of student-athletes.
The reform movement is focused towards increasing academic standards and success. In the end it is all about the student-athletes and the colleges and universities they attend. The reform movement aims to refocus on those issues.
Q: Does that mean a greater importance being placed on attaining an education?
MB: Yes, that is a part of it.
Q: The NCAA governance model was changed a few years back. In Division I it took the one-school, one-vote system and replaced it with the committee system that features weighted representation, and thus provides tremendous power to certain conferences, where the commissioner often calls the shots.
Fans want to know why there isn't a football playoff, or why this reform hasn't been made or why the NCAA acts this way or that, and often this model is the reason. Coming from one of those leagues, what are feelings on that? Your predecessor, Cedric Dempsey, has termed that a "mistake."
MB: Division I governance issues do need to be addressed to assure there is ownership taken by individual presidents as well as athletic directors and faculty reps. The presidents have more than one opportunity to have a voice, certainly on their campus, but also in their conference and on the national level. The governance must be able to draw upon all the presidents of Division I to have a voice.
Q: Obviously the board of directors, which is made up of university presidents, has the final say. But there is a belief that the way the system is shaped they aren't having the impact expected. The power has shifted to the CEOs, the conference commissioners. You know this is a concern?
MB: I think it is important to look carefully at the current Division I governance structure to make sure that it is sufficiently well balanced in terms of input and that all college presidents have an opportunity to have a say. The approach of representative democracy now used may well be the best. The configuration may need to be reviewed.
Q: So you are not opposed to at least a tweaking of the structure?
MB: I think it needs a careful look and it may need revision.
Q: What are your feelings on a Division I-A football playoff?
MB: That is an extraordinarily complex issue. I am new on the job, in fact I don't start for a couple weeks, so I don't claim to have all the information or facts. That issue is one that I am going to have to listen and learn. One thing that is apparent is we have to be careful not to oversimplify it.
I don't think our only alternative is an NFL-style football playoff or going back to the old bowl approach totally. There is lots in between that, and I think the NCAA, working with the conferences, needs to work that out.
Q: There is a feeling among Division I schools that are not at the BCS level that they are operating within an unfair, unbalanced system. In football, non-BCS teams can go undefeated and not have the opportunity to play for a championship. In basketball there is resentment at the mid-major level at the way teams are selected for the NCAA Tournament. What do you think about the competitive issues of those programs?
MB: Those are very good questions. I am not in a position to answer them now but they need to be answered.
Q: But there is merit in those concerns?
MB: I think those are good questions and I look forward to helping answer them.
Q: When it comes to enforcement, there is a tremendous level of distrust from athletes, fans and coaches concerning the NCAA. Whether it is penalizing a school or suspending a player, there is often either a misunderstanding or a negative reaction from your membership and fans. Sometimes these punishments make no sense.
As someone on the outside, have you looked at some of these punishments and said, 'Boy I wonder why they do that?' Is there a way to remedy this, even if it is just better communication concerning the enforcement process?
MB: Actually I think the NCAA does a very good job being fair and equitable under very difficult circumstances. The competitiveness of the players, the coaches and the schools is apparent. No one likes to be sanctioned.
Having said that, especially in terms of minor violations, I think we can look to streamline the process some way and take more account of context in those kinds of instances. And I will look at that.
But in terms of fairness issues and the equitable application of rules, I have never been convinced that the NCAA is off the mark there.
Q: The so-called "arms race" in terms of construction of facilities, coaching salaries and budgets at the Division I level is probably a concern for everyone but the coaches and the building contractors. Is there a way to curb that?
MB: That is something we would all like to see toned down in terms of excesses in terms of expenditures. But the antitrust laws of the country put some challenges in the way of making real progress. The presidents I have spoken to, and there are many, agree we need a better approach to this. And I think it will be studied quite carefully and it will be high on many people's agendas, mine included.
But we are limited, at least at this time, in terms of what we can do by antitrust. You might remember it wasn't too long ago when the NCAA lost an antitrust suit, I believe it was a $55 million settlement, in which they tried to curb the salaries of assistant coaches in basketball. So great care needs to be exercised as we go forward here.
Q: When I spoke with President Dempsey, he said the one thing that he would do differently in his term is to pay closer attention to the politics and the political force you need to direct the NCAA. The president does not have the power like a professional sports commissioner or maybe a university president does.
What do you think of that advice and is that something you are aware of?
MB: Well, first of all, that is a misinterpretation of the powers of a university president. (laughter) They cannot dictate anything. The politics on a university campus is (considerable).
Q: Good point. Let me cut out university president and leave it at the professional sports commissioner. You don't have the power that a Paul Tagliabue or a David Stern has, even though it might seem that way to an outsider.
MB: No. It doesn't work that way. But I have grown up in that (political) environment. And on the presidential side at least, I know the players. I have it well networked and have internalized their values. I understand the limitations of the president of the NCAA and I believe it is analogous to the university president and I know what it takes to get the job done.
Q: Obviously you must have some kind of passion for college athletics to want this job. Describe what that passion is and where does it come from?
MB: I certainly have a passion for college athletics, that is true. But even more strongly I have a passion for higher education. I see the NCAA and the position I am going to occupy as really an extension of higher education. Focused on a smaller set of issues of course as I focused on the rest of my career, but nonetheless, an extension of higher education in terms of student-athlete success and concerns with the success of universities and colleges.
I think it plays an important role in the life of universities and colleges and not just in Division I-A. And I think I can have an impact in that.
Q: Is there a No. 1 priority when you get in that you are looking to do?
MB: I think my approach is going to be straight forward. There are two pillars that have to hold up the entire enterprise and that is reform and advocacy and they go hand in hand. Those two key ideas will shape my thinking and I hope to influence others along those lines.
Q: You are best known around the country for dismissing Bob Knight as coach of Indiana. Is there anything about that situation that you would do differently?
MB: No. I would not do anything differently. Coach Knight is doing well at Texas Tech and I wish him well for the future. It was a difficult situation for all involved and we need to get past it now and move onto to more important and consequential things. And that includes the future of intercollegiate athletics.
Q: Traditionally one of the duties of the NCAA president is to present the national championship trophy to whatever team captures it. This is most publicly done in men's basketball. If Texas Tech won it, are you going to get up there and hand the thing over to coach Knight?
MB: If he wins the tournament, I'd be happy to hand it to him.