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NCAA to Reform Academics

NCAAMyles Brand believes this could be the most critical week in the NCAAs academic reform movement. It could also be the defining moment of his presidency.
Brand has been a proponent of placing greater emphasis on an athletes performance in the classroom rather than on the playing field. Hes campaigned for rewarding programs that excel academically and increasing penalties for schools with substandard results.
On April 29, the NCAAs board of directors is expected to approve the reward-penalty proposal Brand has made the centerpiece of the reform movement. If it passes, the implications will be significant for colleges and universities ' as well as Brands reputation.
This will be how his presidency will be remembered, if it all passes and gets implemented, said Richard Lapchick, chairman of Central Floridas sports business management program.
The boards vote will mark the culmination of a project that started before Brands tenure but was cultivated by his clear, unwavering desire to help school presidents regain control of college sports.
The proposal requires schools to remain above a yet-to-be determined cut line that is based on a formula combining graduation rates and the annual academic progress of individual student-athletes.
If a team consistently falls below that line, it could face the harshest punishment ' losing postseason eligibility and money from NCAA tournaments, penalties many said would never make it through the legislative process.
This is the most important part of the academic reform effort, Brand said of the proposal. I wouldnt say its the only thing I want to accomplish, but I think its one of the key reasons the search committee chose me for this job.
If that was the mission, Brand has succeeded.
Brand left Indiana University in January 2003 to replace Cedric Dempsey and become the first university president to head the NCAA.
His philosophies were apparent before he took office.
At Indiana, Brand was best known for two things: firing coach Bob Knight and fighting to change the image of college sports.
During a 2001 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Brand urged university presidents to scale back the coaching arms race in basketball and football that he called a threat to the academic integrity of universities. His solution: Put academics first.
As NCAA president, Brand has followed through on that promise. He wants schools to be held accountable for what he considers their top priority ' educating students.
I believe the NCAA president should be an advocate for college sports, a leader in reform and should exhibit leadership in correcting problems and looking for doing things in a better way, Brand said.
Just 16 months into a term that expires in January 2008, Brand has already made a significant impact.
After the NCAA increased the number of required core courses for incoming freshman from 13 to 14, Brand advocated another increase to 16. That was approved last year and will take effect in 2008.
He also supported raising the amount of hours toward graduation student-athletes were required to complete to remain eligible. It, too, passed.
I think he came in more as a college president than a reformer, but those who work on college campuses are not surprised in the least by how hes presided and what hes proposed, said Christine Plonsky, chairwoman of the NCAAs Management Council and the womens athletic director at Texas. Its hard not to support academic reform.
Lapchick believes the sweeping changes wouldnt have occurred with a more compromising president.
A longtime critic of the poor graduation rates of athletes at NCAA schools, Lapchick supported Brands decision to create a new formula that would not penalize colleges for athletes who left school in good academic standing as the current calculation does.
Hes been unique, Lapchick said. Ive seen a man with a vision who can look at the most difficult problems in college sports and what it should look like. Hes been tenacious in building up those who buy into it.
Brand hasnt been focused completely on academic reform, though.
When recruiting scandals at Colorado and Miami came to light, Brand wasted little time in appointing a task force to recommend changes.
I think we need to change the entitlement culture on campuses as well as change the behavior, Brand said. We cant legislate morality, but we can change behavior.
If the reform proposal passes Thursday, it will be a major victory for Brand. If, as some believe, the penalties are phased in more quickly than expected, it will be a testament to Brands skill at changing minds and winning votes.
And maybe his legacy.
I think that is the kind of thing you determine at the other end of ones career, said David Berst, an NCAA vice president. But it certainly could be.
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