Sports

Brand leaves simple mark on NCAA

MYLES BRAND HAD a nearly impossible task. The late NCAA president who died this past week attempted to re-route college athletics' speeding convoy of 18-wheelers with a bullhorn and some orange highway cones.

Though Brand is most remembered for firing Bob Knight when he was president at Indiana, the former philosophy professor tirelessly advocated for academic reform and routinely launched signal flares about college athletics' headlong money-grab.

Brand was aware of the limitations of his position, that he was more promoter than czar. As NCAA prez, he had a bully pulpit, but little real power.

As the NCAA searches for his successor, what might be done if the next person who sits in the chair was granted sweeping powers to fix college athletics? Glad I asked:

Simplify

Go to the NCAA's Web site and the Division I Manual is 439 pages. That's not a college sports guide, that's the Yellow Pages.

The NCAA Division I Manual is 439 pages for the same reason that the U.S. Tax Code is 67,000 pages. Too much money, too many loopholes. If you don't spell it out, somebody is going to exploit it.

It's understandable in business, but a little disheartening in college athletics.

You ought to be able to cut down the NCAA manual to about 10 pages and sum up the philosophy in four words: Educate athletes. Don't cheat.

Freshmen ineligible

Forty years ago, the concept was rooted in the idea that freshmen had to be protected and nurtured in the scary, expansive environment of college campuses.

Obviously not the case now. The college landscape is littered with true freshmen performing remarkable feats.

But this isn't about the athletic capabilities of freshmen; it's about preserving the academic integrity of colleges.

Freshman ineligibility likely will weed out some academic misfits (perhaps some one-and-done basketballers) and permit kids to better acclimate themselves. Nothing wrong with teaching patience in a microwave society.

As for coaches who fuss about smaller roster sizes and fewer available players with freshmen ineligible, you know all those speeches you give your players about persevering and overcoming adversity? How appropriate that you get to practice what you preach.

Hey, nobody said this was going to be painless. The inmates have been running the asylum far too long.

A bigger stick

School A gets busted. Pick a transgression: ineligible players; booster shenanigans; the dreaded "lack of institutional control."

The NCAA's Committee on Infractions recommends a punishment. Let's say, postseason ban for two years.

The school appeals and throws itself on the NCAA's mercy. On its own, it whacks some scholarships, censures the coach, limits the number of recruiting visits.

The punishment is reduced to probation and a stern talking-to.

Later, School B gets busted for something similar. They say, hey, School A only got probation.

In the end, barring dead bodies or envelopes full of cash, everybody winds up with probation.

The NCAA's Academic Progress Rate (APR) and Graduation Success Rates (GSR), a big part of Brand's legacy, are steps in the right direction, with progressive penalties for chronic under-performance.

Still, some schools receive waivers on those penalties, too. From now on, they better have an awfully good excuse.

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