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SBJ/20090921/Remembering Myles BrandPrint All
Myles Brand made a big impact on the NCAA’s media partners, even though he never sat across the table from them and formally negotiated a rights deal.
When Brand took over as the NCAA’s president in January 2003, he inherited 11-year deals with CBS and ESPN that were negotiated by his predecessor, Cedric Dempsey.
Both deals end in 2013. But they each give the NCAA an “out clause” after the 2009-10 season.
True to Brand’s nature, none of the media executives contacted for this story knew how he was leaning when it came to exercising that out clause. But they are certain that negotiations would not have become rancorous. That’s because media executives universally described Brand as someone who tried to understand what they needed to do.
That’s not necessarily how media executives first viewed Brand, the first college president to lead the NCAA, as many were concerned that an academic would not be helpful to their business.
Almost immediately, Brand allayed those fears.
“There was some question originally about whether a president from a university would understand the value of the media package for college athletics,” said John Wildhack, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming acquisitions and strategy. “Myles definitely was a huge supporter of college athletes.”
Sean McManus, president of CBS News and CBS Sports, said he felt Brand’s impact immediately. Brand brought a discipline to the NCAA offices that the network appreciated, particularly when it came to making decisions on scheduling or commercials.
“What used to take days and weeks or months took a number of hours many times because Myles gave the people on his team the authority to make the decisions,” McManus said.
McManus recalled the first time he met Brand, soon after Brand was named president. He said Brand looked him in the eye and said that he knew that the relationship between the two companies could only be successful if it was beneficial to both parties.
“The fact that he understood a good deal is only a good deal if it was beneficial to both parties is not normally the first thing a new person in his position would have,” McManus said. “But he was very clear that the CBS relationship was important and that he wanted to work together with us.”
Media executives remembered Brand as a curious learner, someone who always was trying to know their business better. Wildhack talked about a dinner he had with Brand 16 months ago during summer basketball meetings in Newport, R.I. ESPN was telecasting the College World Series at the time, and one of Wildhack’s colleagues showed Brand her PDA, which had one of the games streaming onto it. Brand’s eyes lit up as he watched the game on a handheld device.
“He embraced technology,” Wildhack said. “He embraced new ideas in terms of how to get the NCAA championships and the NCAA brand out there.”
But Brand’s biggest legacy with media executives has little to do with business. They remember the care and attention he gave to students, saying he was constantly trying to figure out how all of the revenue the NCAA brought in could have a positive effect on the universities.
“In his very being, he really believed that they were student athletes and not just entertainers for television,” McManus said. “That was really pervasive throughout his entire approach to his job.”
Former Fox Sports Net President Bob Thompson recognized the same quality during his many meetings with Brand.
“I was always struck by his ability to balance his fundamental beliefs of the place that collegiate athletics held in the university system with the realization that it was also a very big business,” Thompson said. “The reforms he brought about were not only necessary but will be his everlasting legacy.”
“Myles was the right man at the right time. He did a wonderful job of establishing a standard to which other presidents will be measured. Because of Myles’ leadership, other university presidents became more engaged with the NCAA, took it more seriously and had more confidence in the organization.”
Gordon Gee, president, Ohio State University
“We are a couple of New York City boys and … the more we met, the more we realized that there were a variety of issues of common concern and we began taking steps for a broad collaboration which we knew would not yield immediate results, but was the right thing. Myles had a wonderful vision on all of these matters and an understanding that given what he had to balance in the world of academics, athletics, and business, there were things we could do together to advance both of our mutual agendas.”
David Stern, commissioner, NBA, which teamed with the NCAA to create iHoops, an online
community for youth basketball
“A university president stepping in was a very dramatic change for the NCAA, and he handled it perfectly. He was exactly what the NCAA needed and what we still need. It’s a source of deep concern that we’ll struggle to restore that kind of leadership.”
Peter Likins, president emeritus, University of Arizona
“He was obviously a strategic thinker and understood that without the tremendous financial success of football and basketball, that other sports opportunities would be diminished on college campuses. … Dr. Brand clearly understood that there is a direct correlation between the financial and commercial success of college football and basketball programs and a university’s commitment to field a full complement of sports teams on university campuses. From my seat, I didn’t see this as embracing commercialism as much as a more strategic, far-reaching view of how best to expand opportunity in college sports.”
Ben Sutton, CEO, ISP Sports
“All people knew was that he fired Knight and immediately everyone thought he’s anti-athletics. That was not the case at all.”
Rick Jones, FishBait Marketing, which represents football and basketball coaches associations
“The job that Myles did probably lends more prestige to that job. The job is now one that top-notch university presidents are interested in and a number of years ago, that was not true.
Kevin O’Malley, former TV executive and consultant to numerous college conferences
“The way he embraced and fully supported the role of business and commercial enterprise, that was a surprise. But he did it in a way that was fully supportive of the student athlete and opportunities for the student athlete.”
Pat Battle, senior corporate vice president, IMG College
“I think the ‘C’ in NCAA got more attention during Myles’ time than the ‘A.’”
Michael Adams, president, University of Georgia chairman of the NCAA executive committee
“If anything, Myles became more admired by people in the trenches because he allowed coaches’ voices to be heard. The man learned to understand and appreciate coaches more than he originally thought when he took the chair. That’s a legacy the next leader will need to pay attention to.”
Chris Plonsky, women’s athletic director, University of Texas
“Myles was really good at articulating the differences between the pro sports model and the collegiate sports model. There are so many forces trying to pull those together, and he was one who said, ‘We can’t do that. There are precious things about the collegiate model that have to be preserved.’ That’s something that is going to have to continue.”
James Barker, president, Clemson University
“I can remember 25 years ago when you could shoot a cannon down the hall at an NCAA convention and never hit a president. Now in the halls of the convention, you could shoot a cannon and not hit an AD. There’s been a dramatic change in terms of getting presidents more involved in the governance of college athletics.”
Jim Host, founder, Host Communications, which later became part of IMG College
“He had this disarming style. You didn’t know what to expect when you met him, and once you got to know him, he had this extraordinary ability to listen, hear and think.
Greg Shaheen, senior vice president, NCAA
“People expected Myles to do certain things in a certain way because they thought they knew him. There was so much focus on the fact that he was president at Indiana that fired Bobby Knight that people felt they had an idea of which direction he was going to go. I don’t think that was the case.”
Robert Hemenway, former chancellor, University of Kansas, and a member of the NCAA executive committee that hired Brand in 2002
“In his very being, he really believed that they were student athletes and not just entertainers for television. That was really pervasive throughout his entire approach to his job.”
Sean McManus, president, CBS News and CBS Sports
“Some people, because of the Bobby Knight incident, thought that he would be too far on the academic side and that he was going to clamp down on intercollegiate athletics. But he did care a lot about athletic success.”
Harvey Perlman, chancellor, University of Nebraska
In the days before his death, while he still had the strength, Myles Brand would sit on the couch in his Indianapolis living room with a legal pad in his lap and a pen in his hand.
With his death from pancreatic cancer imminent, Brand was still thinking “What’s next?” and jotting those notes down for the next NCAA staff meeting.
Before his diagnosis in January, the NCAA’s president typically traveled 150 to 175 days a year, meaning he wasn’t in his office at the Indy headquarters very often and seldom did he sit in on staff meetings. But with his cancer treatment keeping him off the road, Brand was in the office far more in the last eight months than he’d ever been.
He attended staff meetings, replied quickly to e-mails, hopped on conference calls and met with visitors like Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, both of whom stopped by Brand’s office two weeks ago.
“It was incredible to see him so engaged with everything that’s going on,” said Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s senior vice president and a friend of Brand’s for the last 15 years, dating to Brand’s time as Indiana University president. “He was active and weighed in on the full spectrum of issues.”
Brand’s battle with cancer ended when he died on the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 16. Not surprisingly, he had a call scheduled just the day before with Michael Adams, the University of Georgia president and chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee.
“Up until a week or so ago, Myles was in the office doing what an NCAA president does,” Adams said. “We had our regular Tuesday call set up. But when I called into his office and reached (his assistant), she said, ‘I want to connect you to Peg,’ Myles’ wife. Peg said that there had been real deterioration in the last 48 hours.”
Brand died the next day, but not without leaving a stamp on the NCAA and intercollegiate athletics that his colleagues admittedly didn’t see coming when he started the job in January 2003.
His most visible achievement was the academic reform movement he started early in his tenure and completed with the implementation of the Academic Progress Report, which measures how student athletes are progressing academically and penalizes those programs that don’t keep up.
He also initiated an open and vibrant debate about commercialism in college athletics, saying there should be more, not less, as long as it stays within the framework of amateurism and promotes the accomplishments of the athletes and their teams. Until Brand broached the topic and made it a hot-button item for the past year, commercialism was a word to be whispered on college campuses.
“Myles was a maverick in a lot of ways,” said Chris Plonsky, the women’s athletic director at the University of Texas who spearheaded an NCAA committee that explored the enhancement of commercial activities. “He saw room for commercialism. Coming from the chair of a university president, he understood the financial model and knew that you have to allow for the freedom to create revenue.”
A maverick is not what most expected when Brand was appointed as the first former university president to take the seat as NCAA president. His predecessors had been athletic administrators.
All most of his colleagues knew was that he fired Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight. The immediate perception in intercollegiate athletics was that Brand was about to make their life hell.
“A lot of people expected things to go back to the dark ages,” said Jim Host, a veteran marketer in the college space for 30-plus years. “But Myles got actively involved with a number of TV entities, promotional entities. He understood the role of corporate marketing. Whatever experience he had in marketing, he had to learn. He called people he respected and he increased the revenue side while at the same time instituting really stringent academic reform.
“He recognized the role of college athletics on campus and a lot of people didn’t think he would.”
The NCAA’s Shaheen remembers the water-cooler talk after Brand had been hired.
“There was a period of six to eight weeks where everyone thought that we’d be wearing suits to work every day, that there’d be this very buttoned-up, strict atmosphere, that we’d no longer have cooperative relationships with the media and our corporate partners,” Shaheen said. “At the first staff meeting, you could tell that he’d heard a lot of these rumors. So he starts ticking off each one of those concerns and says, ‘I don’t want to wear a suit unless I have to.’
“One of the really enjoyable processes over the years was watching him surprise people.”
Georgia’s Adams had the same reaction as he watched Brand lead discussions with the NBA and other stakeholders in the sport to create iHoops.com, an online community to assist youth basketball.
“You see this erudite philosophy professor in glasses and he’s the guy who sat down with the NBA and brought them together with the coaches, the high school federations and said, ‘We’ve got a problem to deal with.’ That was a tribute to Myles’ leadership,” Adams said.
“I was sort of surprised at how tenacious he could be.”
Maybe there shouldn’t have been such surprise at the way Brand tackled controversial issues, given the way he dispatched Knight at Indiana in 2000. Certainly, commercialism was considered a dirty word around college campuses until Brand forced the dialogue out from under the table.
No one expected a former university president to champion such a cause.
“In the time that Myles was in office there was more of a focus on working with sponsors, without sacrificing their mission with student athletes,” said Tim McGhee, executive director of corporate sponsorships at AT&T, an NCAA corporate champion. “I see an NCAA that is more responsive to corporate partners and how we market our products and services, while also celebrating the tradition and history of college sports. That’s a credit to Myles because he was willing to listen and see that what we want is the imagery of college sports, not the endorsement of a student athlete.”
To the dismay of some, like Sonny Vaccaro, the sneaker guru who signed Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to shoe deals, the NCAA still represents a hypocrisy.
“I don’t think the NCAA’s approach towards amateurism will change,” Vaccaro said. “These rules have been in place for a long time before Myles Brand ran the NCAA. It’s part of the NCAA’s system that they have these archaic rules against these kids in today’s environment.”
Brand was comfortable, even confident, in the NCAA’s ability to draw a fine line between college and pro sports, while embracing the sponsorship activities around it. While his colleagues might have been surprised at how a former university president could endorse commercialism, Brand stuck to his guns on protecting the amateur status of the athletes.
“I think Myles laid out a direction for the future,” said Robert Hemenway, the former University of Kansas chancellor who was on the NCAA committee that hired Brand. “He made it clear that the NCAA is not just a stone-cold bureaucracy, but that it can actually move out and make changes in both higher education and athletics.”
Graham Spanier, the president at Penn State and potentially a candidate to succeed Brand (see box), said Brand’s legacy was different than what he thought it would be at the beginning. He had known Brand for 23 years as they both moved up the leadership ranks within academia.
“Myles was not a university president who was heavily focused on athletics,” Spanier said. “He was a philosopher who was a great academic leader, and at the time he became president of the NCAA it seemed like an interesting choice. He had somewhat of a learning curve, but he jumped right in and used his background in academics and administration to create a new focus and perspective for the NCAA.”
Despite his many accomplishments, Brand died with unfinished business on the table. He successfully shined an uncomfortable light on the finances of athletic departments and commissioned studies on fiscal responsibility, even though administrators have been reticent to adopt his advice and slow their spending.
Over the last few years in office, Brand was quick to point out that only a dozen or so athletic departments are truly self-sustaining and he expressed concern about the considerable debt load that many universities take on to improve their athletic facilities.
That almost certainly will be a baton the next NCAA president carries forth. The NCAA’s executive committee, chaired by Adams, who is believed to be a candidate himself, is expected to meet this week to discuss interim candidates and the process for selecting Brand’s successor, who will likely again come from the ranks of the university presidents.
Brand’s success in the job seems to have steeled the opinion that a president brings the right balance of protecting the academic endeavors while also promoting the athletic achievements.
“When you look back, Myles rescued the NCAA. We do need a president in that role,” said Robert Kustra, president at Boise State and a member of the executive committee. “When you look at something like the APR, I don’t know whether anyone but a university president could have attacked that issue as firmly as Myles did.
“This was the guy who fired Bobby Knight, but what we got instead was a stalwart defender of coaches, athletic directors, student athletes. They wanted someone who had the courage to make tough decisions, but Myles did it with a finesse that brought everyone together. I sure hope we can find someone of Myles’ caliber. He’s not going to be easy to replace.”
Staff writers Ross Nethery, Liz Mullen, John Lombardo and John Ourand contributed to this report.
University of Georgia president
The chairman of the NCAA’s executive committee will help lead the search, but he’s also expected to be a candidate. Adams has been outspoken on a number of issues confronting college athletics, including the need for a college football playoff.
University of Michigan president
Coleman has been an instrumental figure on the NCAA’s board of directors, as well as the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. She has been Michigan’s president since 2002 and comes from an academic background as a biochemist.
University of Hartford president
In his 11 years at Hartford, Harrison not only has taken a leadership role at the school, but also the NCAA. He chairs the committee on academic performance, while also serving on a number of other committees as well, and he’s the immediate past chairman of the executive committee.
Southeastern Conference commissioner
It’s highly unlikely that the executive committee would veer away from another university president, but Slive could be an attractive candidate because of his experience negotiating media contracts and his aggressive, hard-line stance on cheating.
Penn State University president
Spanier established a link to the NCAA by chairing its board of directors, as well as the Big Ten Conference Council of Presidents. Additionally, Spanier has been known to don the Nittany Lion mascot suit at football games.