NCAA President Myles Brand dies

Mike Mullen

NCAA President Myles Brand died on Wednesday, less than ten months after he was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. Brand, who was 67, will be remembered as the Indiana University president who fired iconic basketball coach Bob Knight, and as an NCAA president who sought to maintain academic integrity in the increasingly monetized world of college sports.

In 2000, while he was at Indiana, Brand received an internal investigation of Knight, which documented repeated instances of personal misconduct by Knight. Brand decided to retain his controversial coach, but instituted a zero-tolerance policy, and stuck to it. Several months later, after Knight accosted a 19-year-old student on campus, Brand fired him. Brand’s first decision, to keep Knight on as a coach, was criticized by academics. His second, to fire Knight, was criticized by Indiana basketball fans. Students protested, and for a short while, police guarded Brand’s house.

The episode also brought Brand to national prominence, and two years later, he was named NCAA president. In a column last April, ESPN.com’s Pat Forde pointed out that Brand was the first NCAA president to come from the academic world. It showed: Brand pushed for a radical approach to punish colleges with low graduation rates of student-athletes.

A February 2009 USA Today profile on Brand reported that it worked, but only to some extent: "Though they continue to lag in the high-profile, high-pressure sports of football and especially men’s basketball, athletes’ graduation rates have subsequently risen and now eclipse those of the overall collective student body."

As proved by recent high-profile cases of academic fraud involving Memphis basketball and Florida State football, whomever inherits the NCAA reigns from Brand still has much work to do.  In the same USA Today article, Brand, who knew then that he was dying, said, "I feel good about what’s happened with college sports…I don’t feel good about the fact that I’m not able to complete everything I’d like to complete. And that may be true no matter what, no matter how long I went on."