Study Overhaul

Times Staff Writer

If Myles Brand has his way, his first year in office will position him to be best remembered not as the man who ousted Bobby Knight, but as the leader who oversaw an academic renaissance in the NCAA.

The annual NCAA convention begins in earnest today in Anaheim and Brand, the former Indiana University president who replaced Cedric Dempsey as NCAA chief executive on Jan. 1, is expected to provide the highlight when he delivers his first state-of-the-association speech to convention delegates Sunday.

His agenda will branch, he said, from "two main pillars, guideposts to everything I do."

Brand, the first sitting university president to ascend to the NCAA's top position, identified those pillars as unwavering support for academic reform and unyielding advocacy for the positives of intercollegiate athletics.

The push for a package of academic rule changes that will make teams more accountable, and subject to sanctions, probably will require four to five years of discussion before being realized, Brand said. Yet, he has wasted no time in promoting the cause, noting it the day he was named president-elect and planning to devote extensive time to the issue during Sunday's speech.

"The academic reform movement obviously received a big boost from the first Knight Commission report [in 1991], and one suggestion from that report stood out -- that university presidents should take more control of athletics," Brand said. "That principle has been taking hold ever since, and my appointment represents the culmination of that process. That said, we're at the beginning of this reform movement, but we are picking up momentum and heading down the tracks. The convention is a good place to begin the debate and put all the issues on the table."

Division I schools do not pass legislation at the convention, which is expected to draw 1,800 college presidents, athletic directors, conference commissioners and coaches. But with so many important decision makers in attendance, the gathering gives Brand an opportunity to build consensus.

Real reform, Brand said, requires resolution of several thorny points:

* The establishment of incentives, such as financial rewards, and disincentives, such as probation and loss of scholarships, based on how a team performs academically.

"That's the only way to put teeth into reform," he said.

* Accelerating the information flow from universities regarding team graduation rates, transfers and academic standing. Brand said NCAA employees were working to develop a system that mandates quickly filed annual reports of all relevant numbers.

* Determining flexible reference rates of graduation and grades that individual teams must meet to avoid punishment.

"It's difficult to do that right," Brand said. "One abstract number won't work both in the Ivy League and every other conference. The number must be relative to that institution's student-body performance. This is quite complex, and it requires a lot of data-driven work."

Hired consultants and faculty members will advise.

* Increasing the number of required high school core courses for incoming freshmen, possibly to as many as 16.

In a commentary published Tuesday in The Times, USC President Steven Sample criticized the NCAA Division I Board of Directors for voting last year to eliminate a minimum SAT or ACT exam score for admission if a high school athlete's grade-point average were 3.55 or better. Sample wrote, "The board willy-nilly took away the only basis that colleges have for ensuring a modicum of comparability among secondary schools."

The path to legislative reforms in the NCAA is lengthy, given the time it takes to hash out concerns like Sample's, for committees to agree upon new rules and for proposed changes to pass through the NCAA's management council and board of directors. Those two bodies meet to conduct legislative business only twice a year, and the management council gives legislation two reviews before it can be considered by the board of directors.

Said Brand: "The school presidents I know, and I know a lot of them, are fully committed to reform. They may differ on all the details, but we will be successful."

Finding agreement on the details remains the challenge on two other issues expected to foster great debate at the convention: the future of the bowl championship series in football and Title IX, the federal law requiring gender equality in college sports.

U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige's blue-ribbon Title IX commission has yet to reveal its final report, but there has been sentiment among some panelists that it should be altered.

"I have two granddaughters and I want them to have the opportunity to fully cooperate in college sports, should they choose to do so," Brand said. "On the same note, I don't want male athletes penalized by removing opportunity. Work needs to be done. How we get there is not the easiest thing in the world, and the federal government, not the NCAA, is the decision-making body on this."

The NCAA has numerous other issues to delve into. Should athletes be paid for participation? What can be done to improve racial diversity in coaching? How can athletic programs become profitable? What can be done to make athletic administrators feel more connected to the passage of legislation?

Brand, 60, said he intends to trumpet whatever causes he champions with a rah-rah spirit.

"There is a steady stream of negativity about intercollegiate athletics," he said, acknowledging the NCAA's cash-cow reputation, educational flaws and recruiting scandals as examples.

"We've become a cynical society, and because of that we've over-exaggerated our problems, so much so that they overwhelm the positive reasons of sports: teamwork, persistence, grace under fire -- all the values we take to heart and want our students to exemplify as they navigate life.

"I know I sound a little old-fashioned, but I believe one of the biggest advantages in this position is the bully pulpit, and I want to raise the value of intercollegiate athletics."

The last thing on his mind is his much-publicized removal of Knight 2 1/2 years ago as Indiana's basketball coach.

When asked his thoughts on how his former coach had so successfully turned Texas Tech (10-1, ranked No. 23 in the nation) into a winner while controlling his famed temper, Brand said, "I wish him well. I'm pleased to see him doing well."

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