Jan. 11, 2004
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In his State of the Association speech before delegates to the 98th annual NCAA Convention, recently, NCAA President Myles Brand warned about the threat to the collegiate model of athletics in America.
He said the threat is that the collegiate model will more closely resemble the professional sports approach. He said that while professional sports is worthy of support, "college sports must not be allowed to be drawn to the professional model like a moth drawn to a flame."
"I want to go on record in calling attention to this potential disaster," Brand told some 1,300 delegates at the Association's Opening Business Session in Nashville's Opryland Hotel.
If this trend continues, he said, "college sports as we know it will disappear, and with it, the educational value to student-athletes and the institutional good will and support from alumni and fans."
Brand, who is beginning his second year as president of the NCAA after nearly 15 years as college president at the University of Oregon and Indiana University, said that the challenge will be to renew the culture in which college sports will exist on the campus. He noted that the drift toward the professional model has been the result of success and the inevitable desire for more success.
"But as benign as these changes appear at the time, the cumulative effect is an erosion of the bond between athletics and academics," Brand said. "To the degree that athletics programs look and behave like...freestanding enterprises, we have seen the type of drift toward the professional model that will diminish and in the long run will eliminate the value of the program to its university."
Brand said that intercollegiate athletics and higher education should focus on three objectives to reaffirm the collegiate model. He said the first objective is to recommit to the academic success of student-athletes as the primary goal of intercollegiate athletics. The second objective is to respect the concept that the student-athlete is central to the enterprise. And the third objective is to reconnect athletics programmatically and financially with the rest of the university.
"We cannot just pay lip service to these objectives," Brand said. "We cannot say we are committed and then sacrifice education and the welfare of the student-athletes to competitive success and financial return."
"When we do that," he said, "we can fairly be accused of becoming a campus version of professional sports. The end result is not merely a distortion of intercollegiate athletics, but is also a distortion of the university itself."
The NCAA president urged the membership to work with one another, overcome their natural competitive tendencies, and create "partnerships" to address issues that threaten the collegiate model.
"In particular, I will pledge the national office as the advocate for cooperative decision-making and action in support of the game," Brand said. "To the extent that it is up to me and the national office, there will not be any legitimate stakeholder excluded from [these partnerships]."
During the past year, Brand told the delegates that he has been working on a change in culture in the national office and the Association as a whole to establish a more flexible and less rigid approach to interpretation of NCAA rules.
"Student-athletes are at the center of all that we do;" he said, "and if we want our publics to believe that our core principle is to be supportive of student-athletes, we must be respectful of their situations and their needs."
Brand said he has been pressing for a "reasonableness" approach to interpretation and application of the rules that takes into account precedent and context in those instances when the bylaws do not cover specific situations. This is an approach, he said, that respects the value of rules but is also sensitive to the problems that face student-athletes - problems that sometimes are not within their control.
"Be assured," he told the delegates, "that I am personally committed to reaching this goal."
Brand said that in the coming year, the members of the NCAA can expect him to continue being guided by the dual objectives of reform and advocacy and said he will focus his efforts in three main areas. He will continue to work toward completion of the academic reform agenda, he will advocate strongly for the collegiate model and athletics, and he will work to create and embrace partnerships between the national office and the stakeholders.
"After a year in the office of the president," he said, "I am more convinced than ever that the relationship between intercollegiate athletics and higher education has survived the test of time because those who went before us had the values right."
"It falls to all of us," Brand concluded, "to see that these values are preserved and that they direct our future actions."