NCAA President Diagnosed with Cancer

Overshadowing other news from the NCAA convention, Myles Brand publicly confirms illness and describes his long-term prognosis as "not good."

January 19, 2009

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Myles Brand, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's president, announced Saturday, in a written statement to his upper-level colleagues, that he is being treated for pancreatic cancer. The announcement came on the final day of the group’s annual convention, overshadowing all decisions from the week’s relatively calm legislative sessions and raising concerns among some college presidents about the future of academic reform in the association, which Brand has championed.

“The long-term prognosis is not good,” the 66-year-old Brand said of his personal health. “I am currently undergoing chemotherapy, and I am receiving excellent care. I will know in the next several months the success of this treatment.”

No further details concerning Brand’s future with the NCAA were provided, although a number of officials at the convention said he will continue on as president for the time being.

Brand, the former president of Indiana University, became the first college president to head the NCAA when he was appointed to the job in 2003. At Indiana, he is perhaps best remembered for his 2000 firing of then-head basketball coach Bob Knight -- who violated Brand’s “zero tolerance” policy of the coach's erratic behavior. As NCAA president, Brand has put academic reform at the center of his agenda, often over the objections of some athletics administrators and coaches, and the association in 2005 implemented a new system for holding colleges more accountable for athletes' failure to make progress toward a degree. Brand has also advocated for the further involvement of college presidents in the group’s governance.

But the history of the NCAA shows a series of gains followed by reversals, as unhappy coaches and sports officials have, when the fervor of presidents faded, turned back some of the progress.

If Brand's illness winds up forcing him out of the NCAA's presidency prematurely, supporters of the association's academic reforms will have to bank on the fact that the new academic system and the philosophy behind it have sufficiently made their way into the college sports culture that they cannot be easily undone.

Division I Review

Consistent with the recent focus on academics and accountability, the Division I Board of Directors voted Saturday to create an Academic Progress Rate for coaches. The APR is an NCAA-developed measurement of college teams’ academic performance calculated by the extent to which athletes stay enrolled and academically eligible. The APR was originally designed to grade institutions as a whole as well as their individual athletic teams. The board announced that it plans to have a publicly searchable database of all the APRs -- year-by-year and lifetime -- of all the division's coaches by summer 2010.

Walt Harrison, chair of the NCAA's Committee on Academic Performance and president of the University of Hartford, said that a coach's APR will serve as a “lifetime batting average” for the academic success of athletes under his or her leadership. He said he expects this figure to play a significant role, alongside a win-loss record, in the hiring of a coach. Unlike the institutional APR -- which the NCAA uses to punish academically underperforming teams -- Harrison said this new measurement would be “more informational than punative.”

It may be unfair to punish a coach for a low APR, Harrison said, noting that the coach is not the only individual responsible for the academic success of his or her athletes. As a result of this concern among the board, he said the NCAA might consider introducing a similar APR for athletics directors and presidents. Such discussions, however, were only speculative. A more formal model of the coaches’ APR is expected by board’s next meeting in April.

The role such a measurement may play in hiring, however, remains to be seen.

"It could have a modest influence," said Graham Spanier, Pennsylvania State University's president. "Realistically, wins and losses weigh most heavily on a coach's reputation."

In other board business, the Brand-formed Task Force on Commercial Activities suggested the creation of a new oversight committee to review specific cases in which athletes may be exploited for commercial gain. The recommendation follows a major NCAA conflict with CBS Sports over its use of individual players’ names and statistics in its fantasy college football game.

"It's a murky issue," said Spanier, chair of the task force. "Almost everybody has an opinion on it. There are a lot of people associated with athletics who feel we've gone too far in commercializing our enterprise.”

The new committee, he said, would probably consider issues at individual institutions in which an athlete, for example, might be featured too prominently in an advertisement or promotion for a program. Issues like those raised by new media enterprises such as online fantasy football, he said, also need further review. Though the committee would have no authority to enforce its recommendations for interpreting what might be considered “too commercial,” Spainer said it would provide suggestions for new NCAA legislation regarding these practices.

Though the board formally approved all legislation passed by the Legislative Council earlier in the week, one prominent agenda item remained for the consideration of all Division I members. Friday, they rejected a request to reverse a ban that kept men’s basketball coaches from attending non-institutional camps and contests in the busy recruiting month of April. Many who opposed the ban argued that these catch-all events, while increasing the influence of their non-institutional planners, help trim their recruiting budgets by eliminating the need to visit multiple sites to scout prospective players.

The reversal of a piece of NCAA legislation requires a five-eighths supermajority vote among the entire division's membership. This item only garnered 45 percent, or 118 institutional votes, for reversal. Prior to the vote, many division leaders spoke in passionate opposition to the reversal -- worried that a vote in favor of reversal would contradict the division’s decision to protect middle school-aged basketball talents, the day prior, by voting to officially considering them prospects.

“If we override this piece of legislation, what we will be saying to our prospective student-athletes is that, to a certain extent, academics don't matter,” said Damon Evans, chair of the division’s leadership council and University of Georgia athletics director.

Though the override had sizable support -- 62 institutions requested that it be considered -- none of its supporters spoke before the membership prior to the vote. Craig Littlepage, athletics director at the University of Virginia, who attended the meeting as a non-voting member, said the coaches of the Atlantic Coast Conference had expressed their support for the override -- to which the conference’s voting delegation silently obliged. He said the coaches in support of the override felt there was a “misunderstanding” about the nature of these April recruiting events but would go no further to explain their complaints.

Division II Review

Without any pressing or controversial legislation presented to its membership, Saturday’s Division II business session went off without many fireworks. The only relatively contentious debate took place regarding a proposal to bring its bylaws more in line with those of Division I -- a rationale that often does not sit well among the more independently minded Division II members.

In Division I, an athlete is punished for being granted an improperly awarded year of eligibility because of a misunderstanding of NCAA rules by his or her coach. The athlete must sit out two contests for every one in which he or she competed as a result of a coach's error. Without such a punishment, some worry that coaches will purposefully state their ignorance of NCAA eligibility rules to start an ineligible athlete. A proposal to bring the same punishment to Division II athletes fell on deaf ears. Some delegates suggested it was better to punish an institution or coach for such a violation instead.

“It doesn’t seem very fair to say that we should punish innocent student-athletes,” said Nate Salant, Gulf South Conference commissioner.

In other notable business, Division II gave its members the green light to receive financial donations from professional sports teams and organizations without restriction. Supporters argued that this would foster better relationships with local sports teams, which often direct support to nearby colleges, and open up new revenue streams for sometimes cash-strapped Division II institutions.

The division also officially mandated that colleges must receive a prospective athlete’s high school or community college transcript prior to his or her signing a National Letter of Intent or being offered athletically related financial aid. In the past, there have been reports of athletes receiving aid packages without knowledge of their academic ineligibility to play a sport -- causing many problems once a transcript finally does arrive. This new rule should prevent such incidents.

Division III Review

At last year’s convention, Division III nearly considered splintering in two because of what some considered irreconcilable differences among its members -- namely the ability to offer scholarships for “athletic leadership.” This year, with talk of creating a Division IV dead, the membership of Division III considered a relatively non-controversial set of legislation.

The division voted to allow an institution’s athletics department staff members to be involved in the use of its facilities by groups which may include prospective athletes, provided certain conditions are met. Prior to the passage of this rule, these staff members were barred from activities such as selling concessions or working at a scorer’s table for events ranging from local swim invitationals to club soccer tournaments. If they were involved, the event may be considered a “tryout” for that sport and be considered an illegal event by NCAA rules, so institutions were required to hire outside assistance for these events.

“Division III institutions depend on such activities to generate critical revenue for their departments, and for these activities to happen, it is often necessary for a member of the athletics department’s staff to administer aspects related to the activity,” read the proposal's rationale.

Now, athletics staff members may be involved in these events if there are not perceived to be directly involved with the “prospective student-athletes” present -- which might lead to an illegal recruiting advantage. Supporters argued the loosening of these restrictions would allow Division III institutions to generate more revenue for their athletics programs.

No proposals related to the issues raised by last year’s talk of splintering were on the agenda. Dan Dutcher, Division III vice president, said legislative resolutions to ongoing conflicts regarding red-shirting rules and the potential offering of “athletic leadership” scholarships would be generated in the coming year for consideration by next year’s convention. In the meantime, he and other division officials expressed relief at this year’s “quiet” business session.

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