Sad news comes from the world of college sports today: according to the NCAA, Myles Brand has finally succumbed after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer, you might recall, is the same disease that killed Pistons and Olympic head coach Chuck Daly earlier this year, as well as Patrick Swayze just earlier this week. It is a brutal, vicious, lethal disease against which most people never stand a chance of survival.
Brand was hardly an ineffectual executive or an empty suit; even before assuming control of the NCAA, Brand made a name for himself by finally dropping the axe on legendary coach Bob Knight at Indiana. The move remains controversial to this day, and some might argue that Indiana has yet to recover, but it was but a precursor to Brand’s career of transition, bringing the NCAA into the 21st century.
Brand’s biggest legacy, of course, has been the APR, or Academic Progress Rate. In it, schools are punished for not keeping their athletes in good academic standing, with scholarship reductions in the offing for programs that fall below arbitrary but reasonable standards of performance. Compliance offices hate it, of course. And it’s not perfect. But it’s good.
He also highly emphasized the university president’s role in the new mix of its athletic and academic pursuits. Per the NCAA’s obituary:
Three months after the 2003 Convention, he asked the NCAA Executive Committee to approve a pilot, voluntary orientation program for newly appointed campus presidents and chancellors, in which a current or former university president would visit a campus not only to explain the operations of the NCAA but to offer counsel on ways to manage athletics issues on campus.
“The program will provide an opportunity to emphasize the importance of presidential participation in the NCAA and garner support for the NCAA’s advocacy and reform agenda,” he told the committee in his proposal.
The program continues today to provide a valued resource for recently appointed presidents at NCAA member institutions.
That looks like a lot of big words, but there aren’t many things that can prepare somebody to be the head administrator of a school other than pure experience; pairing new presidents with existing ones is a fine move.
Of course, Brand’s legacy isn’t entirely positive, and it’s worth noting that just a few months ago, the ORLANDO SENTINEL declared ESPN’s George Bodenheimer, not Brand, the most influential man in college sports. The reasoning went that college athletics had become a very large-scale economic pursuit, and ESPN was holding a lot more money - and thus, sway - than the NCAA.
But it never really seemed to be Brand’s agenda to be the “most powerful” anything. He had a high opinion of the concept of leadership, but it never manifested itself in the micrototalitarian fashion that one would see from a Roger Goodell or Connie Mack. In the end, his M.O. seemed to be more about empowering individual presidents and enforcing high academic standards; say what you will about Brand, but you cannot claim that his intentions were not in the right place, and that is literally the most important thing you can ask of a man.