The NCAA president’s annual address

The NCAA president’s annual address

Myles Brand is the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). He delivered this annual address in January 2003.

I am pleased to be with you today as the new president of the NCAA. I am – as we all are – fortunate to follow in the footsteps of those who have ably led the Association in the past. Walter Byers set the course for the modern era, and we will reap the benefits of his vision for years to come. Dick Schultz, the second person to hold this office, helped demystify the Association and move us forward. We will continue to build on past successes and rely on the strong vision of Cedric Dempsey who guided the Association through a period of dramatic change and growth.

Ced, in fact, has made my job both easier and more difficult. My job is easier because Ced leaves the NCAA in excellent financial condition, staffed with outstanding, dedicated persons and on track for future achievements. My job is more difficult because Ced has set the bar high – very high – for performance. We have all gained much from his leadership of intercollegiate athletics and from his deep integrity and commitment to the NCAA.

My task today is daunting. I am to deliver the president’s address to the annual convention, having been in my role for less than two weeks. So it should come as no surprise when I say my major goal for the next several months is to listen and learn. I am aware that I must find ways to tap into a great store of accumulated wisdom. Good and thoughtful people have considered and debated the issues facing intercollegiate athletics today. Many of these folks have already offered me good counsel. I intend to meet and talk with many more in the near future. And there is a mountain of information – from data to reports to opinion pieces – with which I need to become acquainted. I look forward to this task with the excitement and energy of a newly enrolled student. I am eager to learn from all of you and others who labor in the fields of intercollegiate athletics on a daily basis.

But please do not misunderstand. Even though I have much to learn, my mind is not a blank slate. As a university president for almost fifteen years, I have been engaged in the administration and oversight of intercollegiate athletics. My views are not cut in limestone, as we say in Indiana. They are certainly open to revision and change. There are areas about which I have everything to learn. But I start this effort with an overall perspective and with some clear guiding principles in mind. I will begin to outline these for you today.

First, let me offer a comment or two about the context in which we all live, work, and compete. These are challenging times for intercollegiate athletics. Difficult issues abound. These issues have determinant influences on the lives of student-athletes, the universities and colleges they attend, and the NCAA itself. The difficulties are exacerbated by the intense interest of our publics and constituencies, which are made highly visible by an active press. The recent response to these challenges has been, I am pleased to say, the beginning of a serious reform movement.

We have a new reform focus for student-athletics. We are making progress, for example, in Division I through the recent passage of strengthened academic standards. Divisions II and III are also aggressively attacking these issues and should be applauded for their leadership. But much work remains to be completed. Our reform goal should be enhancing the academic and developmental environment necessary for the full success of student-athletes. In the end, it is all about the student-athlete.

The reform movement should also address issues pertaining directly to the financial challenges universities and colleges face. How do we manage the growth associated with athletics? How do we address issues pertaining to our external constituents, such as gaining a better understanding of the degree of commercial activity that is compatible with maintaining the integrity of college sports? And how do we deal with the over-enthusiasm of our fans, most especially students and others whose celebrations turn unruly?

The growing reform movement focuses on the challenges facing intercollegiate athletics. But we should not become so absorbed in these problems that we lose sight of our purpose, which is to reinforce the positive value of intercollegiate athletics and to advocate for the benefits intercollegiate athletics provide young women and men and the universities and colleges they attend. We advocate for the spirit and excitement of intercollegiate athletics.

We must be clear that reform and advocacy are not merely compatible, they are mutually supporting. We must undertake both, and we must do so simultaneously. Without genuine reform, the future of intercollegiate athletics is in peril. Without vigorous advocacy, the value of intercollegiate athletics will be unrealized.

Reform and advocacy are the dual guideposts to our future success. They are, to borrow from an old Chinese proverb, the two legs on which we will march forward. The NCAA should position itself so the future of intercollegiate athletics benefits from both serious reform and strong advocacy. Each step toward this future will require your support.

Knowing the dual guideposts, however, does not guarantee we will reach our destination. The devil will be in the details. We must adopt specific reforms that achieve the desired results without harmful unintended consequences. The process used to develop these reforms must rely on acceptance by the affected constituencies. This is critical. If we fail to approach the process carefully, misunderstanding, lack of commitment, and lack of ownership of these much-needed reforms will be the result of our inattention.

Let me illustrate. It has become clear to many, myself included, that meaningful and lasting academic reform requires that a system of incentives and disincentives be put into place. In Division I, the conversation has mostly focused on disincentives for poor academic performance on both the individual and team levels, such as the loss of scholarships or the inability to compete in postseason and championship play. There has been some, but not a great deal, of parallel discussion of incentives for excellent academic performance. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful tool in encouraging coaches and universities to enhance academic performance and graduation. It is my belief that the final package should include both strong disincentives and strong incentives.

But prior to adopting any incentive/disincentive package, we must engage in extensive consultation, data collection, and analysis. For example, the current federally mandated method of collecting graduation rates at the six-year mark for each class results in dated and misleading data. The process unfairly penalizes programs where student-athletes leave in good academic standing or where incoming transfers graduate within an appropriate period of time. A more timely approach to calculating academic progress, say annually, would provide more useful information on student-athlete progress and a better understanding of the academic status of those who leave a program.

Our decision-making must be based on evidence, rather than intuition or anecdote. It must be inclusive and ensure that all key stakeholders have the opportunity to have their perspectives heard and their supporting data presented. Fortunately, our colleges and universities have knowledgeable staff and faculty who can provide expert analysis. But in the end, it is the responsibility of the presidents and chancellors to make the final decisions. Of course, the NCAA has the responsibility of organizing itself so that good, timely, inclusive, and evidence-based decision-making occurs. To the extent that current procedures are overly bureaucratic or exclude key stakeholders, we will have to modify our processes.

One point requires additional emphasis. The NCAA is a membership organization, consisting of more than 1,200 universities, colleges, and related associations. It is the members, represented ultimately by university and college presidents, who decide on future courses of action. While we recognize that final authority resides with our members, the NCAA – including the president of the Association – has a leadership role to play. I intend to provide direction by drawing attention to the dual guideposts of reform and advocacy and by engaging the Association and its membership in developing approaches and undertaking actions that are demarcated by these guideposts.

Within the next year, I will work with the NCAA membership to develop a strategic planning process designed to enable progress in the areas of reform and advocacy. The strategic directions that emerge from this planning process will position the Association and its members to advance the positive roles that intercollegiate athletics play, while resolving, as much as possible, the outstanding problems. My goal is to substantially complete this process before this time next year.

I envision a strategic plan that builds on the good work already undertaken by the NCAA and other organizations and individuals. Divisions II and III, for example, have already developed plans for strategic initiatives that support a broader plan. As we undertake this process, we must assure key stakeholders that their perspectives will be taken into consideration. The plan must achieve the right level of abstraction: it cannot be so specific that it preempts presidential decision-making, nor can it be so general that it devolves into platitudes. Most importantly, this strategic plan should be value-based. The future directions of intercollegiate athletics must reflect our positive values.

This is an appropriate moment for us to look into the future. The problems for intercollegiate athletics have become glaringly obvious, and the reform movement has begun. The environment for intercollegiate athletics, like everything else in the world around us, is changing rapidly. But we can rest assured on one truth: those who do not plan for the future are destined to be victimized by it.

The pace of change is accelerating as new technologies dramatically affect every aspect of our lives. The prospects for better health and longevity are coupled with growing anxiety about the human condition and the depletion of natural resources. Communication technologies have brought us closer and enabled fans to view sports 24 hours a day. At the same time, the shortened news cycle and multitude of new media outlets have made news broadcasting less reliable, while encouraging outrageous on-line, on-air, and in-person behavior in an effort to compete for audience share.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, noted in his inaugural address that we must “adapt to changing times, while holding fast to unchanging principles.” As we follow the dual guideposts of reform and advocacy through a rapidly changing world, we must do so in a principled manner. Let me try to articulate several key principles that should underlie any adequate strategic plan for reform and advocacy in college sports.

I take as my first principle the conviction that intercollegiate athletics must be integrated into the academic mission of colleges and universities. Athletic competition is a vital part of American higher education, but it cannot stand alone nor should it only minimally fulfill the primary mission of our colleges and universities. Rather, it must go hand in hand with their academic goals.

This means we must support student-athletes’ academic success by ensuring that they have access to the full range of major courses of study and by developing sound initial and continuing-eligibility standards that provide incentives for success. We must remember that student-athletes are just that: student-athletes. We must not allow their athletic training and competition to overwhelm their educational opportunities. Their commitment to their sport and their regimen for athletics preparedness should permit adequate time for study and a social life. There is nothing more important to higher education, in my view, than educational opportunities for students. I understand not every student will avail himself or herself of these opportunities; but it is our job to ensure that all student-athletes train and compete in environments that encourage them to do so.

This principle also implies that intercollegiate athletics is organized and administered on campuses in such a way that it supports the academic goals of the institution. Competitive individual and team performance is a high priority, no doubt, but not at the cost of student-athletes’ academic success. Athletics programs are part of the university, and they should function in much the same way as other campus units. Intercollegiate athletics, especially in the high-profile sports, commands a great deal of attention on and off campus. Despite this intense interest, we should not lose sight of our priorities. Intercollegiate athletics must accommodate itself to the academic priorities of universities and colleges, and not vice versa.

We cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that presidential control of intercollegiate athletics is essential. I present this as our second principle. The Knight Commission served intercollegiate athletics well when, in its first report published in 1991, it clearly articulated this pragmatic truth. University and college presidents are in the best position to provide institutional leadership, while taking into account the perspectives of student-athletes, coaches, fans, faculty members, and governing boards.

This principle of presidential control is the essential feature of the reform movement. Though critics and pundits, external commissions, and study committees may hope to influence the future course of intercollegiate athletics, the fact of the matter is that presidents are best positioned to change their campus’s perspectives and behavior. When missteps in athletic programs occur, universities are open to criticism, and the presidents are the ones on the front lines. I know because I have been there. It is presidents who have the ultimate responsibility for setting standards and ensuring that these standards are followed. The NCAA should make every possible effort to assist presidents in carrying out these responsibilities.

These two principles speak to the reform initiatives underway. The next two pertain to advocacy.

I present as our third guiding principle my conviction that the positive value of intercollegiate athletics should be stressed and reinforced. You will not find this stated so plainly among the principles and rules set forth in the NCAA Manual, but it is one central purpose for which the NCAA exists.

Yet, we tend to emphasize the problems that accompany intercollegiate athletics. The media – and often we ourselves – focus attention on a student-athlete’s or coach’s personal shortcomings, inappropriate actions, or on the current crisis of the day. These are real issues, of course; and they should not be neglected. But we do ourselves and intercollegiate athletics a considerable disservice if we allow these problems to become overwhelming preoccupations. Such preoccupations can make us miss the good in intercollegiate sports and forget the reason why we are all here. Let us not permit our natural impulse to attend to problems and failures to hijack college sports.

Athletics provides unique opportunities for young women and men to internalize the values of hard work, fair competition, and cooperation toward a common goal. Intercollegiate athletics develops the virtues of loyalty, fairness, self-respect, respect for others, and a quest for excellence. Undertaken in the right spirit, college sports promotes a sense of community and good citizenship. And with more than 150,000 women participating today, and in greater numbers in the future, the positive value of intercollegiate athletics reaches even further.

Intercollegiate athletics provides extraordinary opportunities for alumni, donors, and campus friends to feel vitally connected to the life of the university. Only the most cynical can resist being moved by the thrill of victory. Last year as I watched the Indiana Hoosiers’ exciting run to the championship game, I was filled with great excitement and pride. Even distant fans can catch the spirit vicariously. There are good reasons why intercollegiate athletics has become incredibly popular.

The NCAA and its members should reinforce and emphasize the positive value of college sports. Let us freely admit and loudly proclaim that intercollegiate athletics has significant value. We should fix the problems, but we should not let them cast a pall over college sports.

I advance as our fourth guiding principle the idea that the integrity of intercollegiate athletics is and must remain paramount. College sports have their own unique identity. They are different from professional sports. Professional sports have much to offer their fans and host cities; they too have value. But college athletics are distinct from professional sports, and the uniqueness of college sports should be preserved and nurtured.

Even in collegiate sports where attendance is small, student-athletes compete hard for themselves, their teammates, and their schools. These athletes are amateurs in the sense of the term most often understood by the general public. The sense of the game for its own value, the feeling of pride in the competition itself, the recognition for local champions, all contribute to the unique integrity of intercollegiate athletics.

But the integrity of college sports is apparent, too, in high profile Division IA football and men’s basketball. Not much can compare to the sense of camaraderie apparent on a Saturday afternoon in a stadium where over one hundred thousand fans dressed in their school colors cheer their alma mater to victory. Popular college sports attract fans nationwide, indeed worldwide. Though such sporting events bear some similarities to professional games, including sponsored broadcasts, they nonetheless retain their integrity. While it is difficult to describe, the felt experience of college and professional sports are simply not the same.

I am not revealing any secrets when I note that a primary threat to the integrity of college sports is over-commercialization. There are those who see little, if any, advantage to maintaining the integrity of college sports, and who push for unlimited, unrestrained commercialization. The problem is that much of the extraordinary value of intercollegiate athletics depends on its integrity, and that is lost when commercial interests overwhelm the game.

There are others who believe the integrity of college sports has already been lost to unrestrained commercialism. On the contrary, I believe there is a proper role for commercial sponsorship and partnership with intercollegiate athletics. Those who proclaim that commercial interests have no place in intercollegiate athletics have a myopic view of the nature of the modern university. Universities, both private and public, cannot achieve excellence, including paying competitive faculty salaries and constructing necessary academic facilities, without individual and corporate support. For instance, business buildings are filled with plaques lauding corporate sponsorship; classical music schools seek corporate support for performances. Athletics programs, likewise, need corporate support to succeed. The irony is palpable when those who declare that university athletics programs – unlike business and music programs – should be self-supporting and should reject corporate funds.

If athletics events are presented in the right way, even large-scale corporate agreements do not put the integrity of intercollegiate sports at risk. An excellent example is the CBS/ESPN contracts with the NCAA, which includes our basketball tournaments. This partnership permits wide media access for fans, while highlighting the excitement and promoting the best features of college sports.

Admittedly, there are no ironclad, specific criteria for judging when commercial interests overwhelm college sports. Smart people of good will can disagree on this point. For me, the judgment depends on whether the integrity of college sports is sustained or jeopardized. Good common sense and an open, unbiased perspective should be the tools by which we measure appropriate commercial involvement.

The final principle to which I want to call attention concerns fair and just action in intercollegiate athletics. So I present as our fifth guiding principle the proposition that the norms of ethical behavior must guide all of intercollegiate athletics.

Fairness and ethical behavior are required – not merely preferred – in intercollegiate athletics. That pertains, for example, to the way coaches treat student-athletes, the way student-athletes treat each other, the way universities deal with student-athletes, and the way the NCAA interacts with everyone. The golden rule, which we all learned as children, is at the heart of the matter: treat others as you would have them treat you. No doubt, this sounds old-fashioned to some. But morality is timeless. To repeat President Carter’s point, in changing times, we must adhere to unchanging principles.

Student-athletes have obligations to others and also to themselves. They are to follow the moral and legal norms of their communities. That includes, among other guidelines, respectful treatment of others. It includes no drug or alcohol abuse and no gambling. Along with the NCAA, universities should set standards and every coach should reinforce good student behavior. But, in the end, student-athletes must take personal responsibility for their own actions. We should not expect less of them, and they should not expect less of themselves.

Fairness is also an issue in the formation and enforcement of NCAA rules. New rules should not treat unfairly any student-athlete or any university. Enforcement must be consistent and must be applied equally. But with regard to enforcement and rule violation, there should also be a place for good judgment. Fairness permits consideration of context.

One of the most important pieces of legislation affecting higher education in the last half of the 20th century is Title IX. It opened doors for young women to participate in intercollegiate athletics in ways and in numbers never before achieved. I am a strong advocate and supporter of Title IX. I am pleased that young women – including my two young granddaughters – will have the chance to experience firsthand the positive value of intercollegiate athletics.

I am, of course, aware that some persons are unhappy with the Department of Education’s current interpretations of the rules for implementing Title IX. The Presidential Commission appointed by Secretary Paige may shed light on this interpretation, and we await the Commission’s report. But we must move forward in fully implementing Title IX in a timely and aggressive manner despite the discomfort of some individuals or institutions.

The end result must be an equal chance for women and men to participate in intercollegiate athletics. We must become more creative in how we gather and use resources to ensure that everyone who wants to participate has the opportunity to do so, and our focus should be directed toward opportunity-based results. No one should be left out because of gender.

This principle of ethical behavior also pertains to access to leadership positions for women and minority men. One of the most egregious instances of this lack of access is the low number of African-American head football coaches and offensive and defensive coordinators in Division IA. The current situation is simply unjustifiable. As my predecessor Ced Dempsey has done, I will work with the key constituency organizations as well as the universities that do the hiring to change current practices. Another, and related issue, concerns access to AD and other athletic department leadership positions for minorities and women. We should not accept excuses for lack of success in these matters.

For a speech that started with the disclaimer that I have been on the job for less than two weeks and that I plan to listen and learn, I seem to have said a lot. But recall my also mentioning that, though I have much to learn, I do not enter the fray with a blank slate.

The dual objectives of reform and advocacy will be my guideposts. I intend to lead the NCAA by working with its members to bring to fruition the reform movement now underway. There is much work to be done in resolving the outstanding problems confronting college sports – problems that threaten our entire enterprise if we leave them unsolved. But problem-solving is not enough. We all must also reinforce and emphasize the positive value of intercollegiate athletics. Undertaken in the right way and with the right spirit, intercollegiate athletics offer extraordinary opportunities for young women and men. We need to celebrate the joy and excitement of college sports and the contributions it makes to our culture.

In order to march down the road on the two legs of reform and advocacy, we need a roadmap. That map is the strategic plan. Through an inclusive, timely, value-driven process, I propose we develop strategic directions that will lead to our goals.

This strategic plan will be shaped in great part by several fundamental principles. These principles include ones pertaining to reform, namely the full integration of intercollegiate athletics into the academic mission of universities and colleges, and campus and national control of athletics by the presidents. They also include principles for advocacy, that is, an emphasis on the positive value of intercollegiate athletics and the recognition and preservation of the integrity of college sports. Crucial, too, is a firm commitment to ethical behavior, including advocacy for full participation by women athletes, and minorities and women in leadership positions.

This agenda is admittedly large. But we reach high goals only by first aiming high. Commenting on his new book In Search of America, newscaster Peter Jennings recently noted that America is a great nation in part because it is “always in the act of becoming, often falling short of its ambitions, yet always ready to resume.” As a great American institution, intercollegiate athletics, too, is always in the act of becoming. Sometimes, we fall short of our ambitions, but we must always be prepared to resume the full pursuit of them.

You can count on my commitment to these goals. You can count too on my energetic and aggressive engagement in pursuing them.

I am, however, smart enough to know that reaching these goals is not possible working alone. Reform and advocacy are team sports. I sincerely ask that we join together in this effort. Together, I am confident, we can scale any heights.

Thank you.

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