Obituary: Myles Brand, 67; Head of Indiana U., Then NCAA, Fired Coach Knight

As NCAA chief, Myles Brand tried to create a balance between sports and universities' educational role.
As NCAA chief, Myles Brand tried to create a balance between sports and universities' educational role. (2004 Photo By Tom Strattman -- Associated Press)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 2009

Myles Brand, 67, who brought reforms to college sports as president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association but might be best remembered for firing Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight at Indiana University, died Sept. 16 of pancreatic cancer in Indianapolis.

Dr. Brand, who was trained as a philosopher, was president of Indiana University for eight years before becoming NCAA president in 2003. He was the first university president to lead the governing body of college athletics.

Before the Knight incident in 2000 ignited a national debate over the role of sports on college campuses, Dr. Brand had never been considered an athletic reformer. He had been better known for his steady stewardship at Indiana, making the university a leading center of information technology and life sciences and increasing the university's endowment.

But the volatile Knight, who had been Indiana's basketball coach since 1971, came under scrutiny after one of his players, Neil Reed, said the coach had grabbed him by the throat during a practice. Knight denied the allegation until a videotape surfaced proving the player right. In May 2000, Dr. Brand imposed a zero-tolerance policy on Knight, who had led the Hoosiers to three national championships and 11 Big Ten titles and was already a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Dr. Brand cited a pattern of boorish behavior by Knight that included outbursts toward subordinates and university officials. He warned the coach that he could fired unless he mended his ways.

Four months later, in September 2000, Knight allegedly grabbed a student by the arm and cursed at him for having the effrontery to address the coach by his last name. Calling Knight's actions "defiant and hostile," Dr. Brand fired the popular coach.

Thousands of angry students marched on Dr. Brand's house in protest and burned him in effigy. He and his wife had to be escorted to safety by police. (Knight went on to coach at Texas Tech University before retiring last year.)

The episode made Dr. Brand a villain in Indiana but a hero to many others who believed that athletics had assumed too important a place on college campuses. In a speech at the National Press Club in 2001, Dr. Brand warned of a growing "arms race" in sports that threatened to overwhelm the educational purpose of the nation's universities.

After stepping down as Indiana's president in 2002, Dr. Brand became the NCAA president and immediately sought to give college presidents greater control over sports programs.

He led efforts to improve minority hiring among coaches and to give greater emphasis to women's sports. The NCAA executive board voted not to allow any NCAA events on the campuses of colleges with nicknames or mascots of American Indians.

Dr. Brand also hoped to rein in coaching salaries and expenses and to improve the scholarly achievement of athletes. He set up a system to track athletes' academic progress and to monitor their graduation rates. (Surprisingly, athletes in all but the glamour sports of football and basketball turned out to graduate at higher rates than other students.)

The most egregious problems, Dr. Brand found, were in men's basketball, with its low graduation rates, frequent recruiting abuses and exorbitant salaries for coaches. The powerful basketball coaching cadre was not pleased with the spotlight of attention.

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