Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Brand’s Legacy Lives On With Academic Reforms

NCAA President Myles Brand died of pancreatic cancer at age 67 last week. His passing was marked by moments of silence before football games across the country, including at Georgetown’s game against Yale on Saturday.

Brand’s name rose to national prominence – at least in the world of sports – in the summer of 2000 when, as president of Indiana University, he fired men’s basketball coach Bob Knight after Knight allegedly grabbed freshman Kent Harvey by the arm. The incident was a violation of Brand’s zero-tolerance policy directed at Knight, who showed a penchant for engaging in physically abusive conduct with players.

His decision to fire Knight, the man who led Indiana to three NCAA championships in his 27 years at the school, was widely unpopular with students and alumni, who were willing to overlook Knight’s transgressions with players because he consistently won. Brand did not care that Knight was a worshiped figured at Indiana. Knight had broken his rule, and therefore he had to go.

What made the Knight saga unique was that for the first time in what seemed like ages, a university president actually stood up to a larger-than-life coach and put him in his place. Instead of backing down to the demands of fans and well-connected athletic boosters and fundraisers, whose support is often necessary to fund college athletic programs, Brand reasserted the power of the university that the athletic teams called home. In an era in which football coaches at public universities were often the highest paid state employees, this was a shock to the power of the college coach.

This incident foreshadowed the dominant theme of Brand’s tenure as NCAA president. Athletic programs could no longer be treated as autonomous entities on college campuses, seemingly unconcerned about the academic standards of their institutions. Instead, under Brand, sports were recognized as just one aspect of college life for student-athletes, and a much stronger emphasis placed on academic life.

Brand’s insistence on raising academic requirements for athletes undoubtedly came from his background as a philosophy professor and university president – positions that made him understand that educating young minds is the primary objective of any college. Unlike his predecessors at the NCAA, who were former athletic directors, Brand brought a new perspective that remade the balance between the roles of academics and athletics.

“Academics must come first,” Brand said in a 2003 speech. “The success of student-athletes, both on and off the field, is the defining characteristic of college sports.”

For too many top basketball and football programs, academics was an afterthought for players and coaches, a mere formality of playing at the highest levels of college sports. Except for the academic standards imposed by individual colleges, the NCAA had very little power to force academic standards on its teams until Brand introduced the Academic Progress Rate.

The APR, which was introduced in 2005, measures how many players on individual college teams are academically eligible and stay with their schools in a given semester. Each team’s score is based on the previous four years and is published annually. If a team fails to achieve a score of 925 out of 1,000, the equivalent of a 50 percent graduation rate, scholarships in that sport may be taken away as a penalty. For reference, in the NCAA’s most recent report, the Georgetown men’s basketball team scored a 942, the women’s basketball scored a 975, and the football team scored a 966, all of which were above the national Division I averages in their respective sports.

Although the system is not perfect, the fact that Brand was able to impose academic standards on major football and basketball programs that had been averse to change is quite remarkable, considering that member schools must approve any such regulations.

But what will change college sports forever is this: Coaches and athletes are required to take their schools’ academic standards seriously or face NCAA sanctions. With the prospect of losing scholarships, universities now have the power to force their athletic programs to comply with their standards.

Critics argue that these standards are not stringent enough and that programs will continue to allow academic standards to slide, as was seen with the controversy surrounding some of John Calipari’s basketball players during his time at Memphis. While some programs still do not take academics seriously, the APR imposes some standards and establishes a baseline for even stronger future sanctions. Ultimately, there is only so much the NCAA can do. It is up to each university to determine how seriously it will take academics.

There has already been discussion about who should replace Brand. One thing appears clear: The next administrator will be a school president, following in Brand’s footsteps. Under Brand’s leadership, the popularity and marketability of college sports only increased, with nearly all Division I championships televised nationally. A group of college presidents will ultimately select Brand’s replacement. Having another one of their own in power is a proposition too tempting for college presidents to pass up.

Brand’s defining achievement will be the establishment of the APR, which should be a starting point for greater academic compliance among student-athletes. But Brand’s true legacy will be his work to allow universities to reclaim control over their athletic programs, which are now beholden to the academic standards of their institutions.

Nick Macri is a junior in the College. The Big Picture appears in every other Tuesday issue of Hoya Sports. “

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