Thursday, September 17, 2009

Myles Brand--an Unsung Legacy

Myles Brand, philosopher, University President, President of NCAA died on Wednesday. Accolades are justly showered upon him. But time and again one story is mentioned, he fired the loony and untouchable Bobby Knight as coach of Indiana. This focus is incredibly unfair to Brand as a person and leader. It touches on one moment that proved a President could stand up to a star coach. I cannot hope to do justice to him and his wide accomplishments but I want to mention three hidden aspects of his legacy that live on in the daily lives of students and members of NCAA.

First, he pushed hard for the academic reforms that permeate NCAA colleges and universities right now. After decades of exploiting student athletes with low graduation rates and perfunctory eligibility, Myles Brand and the Presidents asserted a critical level of control and implemented a series of reforms that are producing results and limiting some of the exploitations.

The reforms produced an alphabet soup of acronyms APR, PTD, GSR etal. The gist of all these reforms is that they were driven by data that identified the critical leverage points for ensuring that student athletes progress toward a legimate degree and graduate. They force colleges to monitor the quarterly, semester and yearly progress of student athletes. They demand that college athletic departments ensure the students are garnering 6 hours of credit, getting 27 and 36 hours per year and are choosing a real major as juniors. Most importantly the reforms align the interests of coaches with academic progress by imposing penalties upon teams that do not meet set graduation expectations and have students who leave the program ineligible.

None of these are perfect but from the ground level it means coaches have to take academic progress seriously to keep students eligible to avoid losing scholarships. The reforms ushered in a sea change in investment in academic support and coaching interest in moving students forward. At the day to day level where athletic support staff and faculty athletic representatives wrestle with coaches, students and athletic administrators to ensure academic significance, the reforms produces true leverage for academic proponents for the first time.

Second, he created an institution that is devoted to data collection. The NCAA is home to statisticians and huge data fields. He insisted that policy not be driven by anecdote, the latest mess or demands of lobbyists. Wherever possible, as befits an academic institution, policy was driven by what data identified as problems and as possible avenues of change. It made the solutions sometimes Byzantine but also transparent. It pushed the organization to collect data,think about issues and move forward. The data sets also hold a treasure trove for serious scholars of athletics and academics.

Finally, he relentlessly promoted diversity and racial and gender equity in intercollegiate athletics. The corporatist governance structure of th NCAA spawns large numbers of positions and requires balanced representation of many interests. The selection committees are under constant pressure to ensure racial and gender balance in their appointments to the governance structure. Numerous training and advancement programs have been sponsored to generate pipelines for younger minority and female administrators. He helped further a pipeline of diverse leaders and one of his most bitter disappointments was the NCAA's inability to increase the diversity of football coaches.

No one sees these daily activities. Cumulatively these unsung changes have nested in the heart of bureaucracies to advance the uneven cause of data driven policy, serious support for students who happen to be athletes, and social justice. For that I honor and miss him.

(Photo courtesy of Chronicle of Higher Education)

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