Picking Up Where Brand Left Off

By all accounts, the late Myles Brand had a successful tenure as NCAA President. He continued the successful businesses in football and basketball, while putting much needed focus on academic reform, instituting programs and policies that have only started to show the impact they may eventually have. Now is not the time for complacency though, the NCAA must focus on continuing Brand’s academic mission and turns its head to a few major issues yet to be successfully addressed.

I saw a quote that Brand shifted the emphasis away from the ‘A’ and to the ‘C’ in NCAA. Academic reform is off to a good start, though it still has a long way to go. The goal is to eliminate these Derrick Rose stories about falsified SAT scores, continue to boost graduation rates, and add some legitimacy to the grades players receive. Academic problems are systemic, stretching well beyond the NCAA can achieve through policy in 3-5 years. They need more partners (high schools, coaches, NBA, etc.), more watchdogs, and the ability to deliver meaningful penalties while the kids are in school.

Academic reform aside, I think the NCAA actually needs to put more focus on the ‘A’ than they have. Athletics mean more than basketball and football, and more than Division 1. SBJ reported last week that the University of Maryland, a prominent D-1 school in a BCS conference, may cut some sports to save money and prevent a budget overrun. Likewise, MIT, a D-3 school known for academic rigor, was forced to cut sports earlier this year, along with countless other programs. When I attended Syracuse, I was amazed we had no baseball team, no hockey team, and saw the wrestling team cut while I was in school. Yet, down the road they built a multi-million dollar practice facility for the basketball team.

The NCAA’s own public service commercials during games tout all the college athletes who will go pro in something other than sports. At the same time the current system is minimizing how many of those students can become athletes. The business side of the NCAA needs reform. Football and basketball budgets are outrageous, starting with coach’s salaries and the luxuries some teams unnecessarily provide their players.

NCAA sports is more ripe for revenue sharing than professional sports. These are supposedly non-profit enterprises. I’m not sure if the right answer is sharing by conference, or a centrally managed NCAA revenue pool for each division (D1, D2, D3, etc.), but the NCAA should put a more comprehensive program together to bolster ‘non-revenue’ sports programs. Yes, football and basketball earn money so they should get the money, but my argument is this is not supposed to be a for-profit enterprise. College athletics is actually supposed to be about equal opportunity, unlike the pros. Before another school shells out $4mm a year for the next Nick Saban, that school best have a team in every sport, and every school in that conference have a team at some level in every sport – or cap the salary. Maybe the NCAA needs to mandate a salary cap on coaches.

Myles Brand left an indelible mark on academics that I hope the next President picks up and takes to the next level, but the NCAA has more fish to fry – financial reform is the next mission.


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