Most people look at a university and see students. And athletes. Myles Brand saw both. To him, student athlete didn't need quotations, it needed a hyphen.
When Brand passed away of pancreatic cancer, the NCAA lost a leader. It's Superman. A man who sought to right the wrongs. Fix the system. He didn't worry about probability. Mutually exclusive wasn't in his vocabulary.
His vision had no limits. In January of 2001, he gave a speech at the National Press Club in Washington and criticized what he called an “arms race” in college sports. Brand mentioned that universities faced tough times as the weight of winning was beginning to “endanger the real mission of universities,” he said.
And he made that his mission.
When Brand took over in 2002 the NCAA was a mess. There was a lack of academic accountability, really. Every time fans turned around, another school was fighting allegations of unfair play.
From 1997 to 2000, Texas A&M Kingsville was allowed players to compete while taking a part-time class load. In the summer of 1999, Purdue was found to have “violated rules regarding recruiting, extra benefits and ethical conduct in the men's basketball program, in addition to several secondary violations in the women's basketball program,” said The Daily Pennsylvanian.
In April of 2000, a federal grand jury in Missouri handed down an 11-count indictment, which detailed payments to Corey Maggette—by NCAA rule the payments compromise Maggette's amateur status.
For Brand, he took over the Titanic right before the iceberg. Met Napolean and Michel Ney at Waterloo—before noon. Or showed up on a blind date, only to meet his sister.
But if anyone was going to succeed, it was Myles Brand.
His resume was longer than a country mile. Brand was president at Indiana—he fired Bob Knight, you know. He was the President of the University of Oregon from 1989 to 1994.
He worked as the Vice President for academic affairs at Ohio State University from 1986 to 1989, spent time at Arizona from 1981 to 1986 and was at the University of Illinois at Chicago before that. He began his career in the department of philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh in 1967. Myles Brand had been around the block.
He was just like the guy in the corner cubicle, he had worked in middle management long enough to see where the bleeding was occurring and knew how to fix it. Now he had his shot.
He didn't see the NCAA as a business, overrun at the time with corruption and greed, as a sinking ship, or a lost cause. He saw an opportunity for growth. An opportunity to teach. Just like his career began, he was going to begin with a change in philosophy.
Athletes would graduate—with a respectable GPA—and universities would be held accountable. He challenged universities and students to become scholar-athletes. He helped the NCAA adopt the Academic Progress Report and the Graduation Success Rate – to follow those statistics.
“Academics comes first,” is what he declared.
Almost a decade later, the system isn't perfect, but it is much improved. While some student-athletes are still given preferential treatment, it's not a free ride. And it's not without work.
Schools are challenged to meet higher scholastic standards. Teams now compete on the field and in the classroom, working toward a higher collaborative GPA.
Often times fans claim that Brand stopped the NCAA from establishing a playoff system for football. Or he ruined March Madness. He was a tyrant. He was arrogant.
He was the right choice.
Now that Myles Brand is gone, the NCAA is at a crossroads. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony come to mind. The committee in charge of finding his replacement will have to decide what is more important in the future—winning games or education.