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Fitting Sports Into a Whole

October 20, 2002

In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt grew so concerned over college athletics that he called two White House summits. The problem was the maiming, sometimes even deaths, occurring during these new things called college football games, which were basically rule-free encounters between two merciless gangs in school colors.

Soon, schools organized to police themselves through what became the National Collegiate Athletic Assn., now a voluntary group of 1,200 colleges, universities, conferences and sports organizations.

Some things changed over time; Roosevelt, for instance, is no longer president. But collegiate athletic problems continued and were exacerbated by commercialization, TV and their lifeblood, Money.

Now, the NCAA is changing presidents. It's just named only its fourth president in a half-century, Myles Brand, a 60-year-old student of philosophy who's run Indiana University since 1994. Brand's name may seem familiar; under him Indiana quadrupled endowment, doubled research funds and tripled endowed chairs. Oh, and Brand was the fearless fellow who fired basketball coach Bobby Knight for unsportsmanlike behavior. Did we mention this was Indiana?

As the first university president to run the NCAA, Brand brings to his new job impressive credentials, a suitcase of savvy and the hopes of many sickened by ethical lapses and plain cheating by grown-up competitors in corporate America. At Indiana, Brand led 100,000 students on eight campuses. Now he'll monitor the administrative, academic and competitive endeavors of 355,688 collegiate athletes (and millions more adoring, affluent alums) in a plethora of sports, most financially supported by the revenues of a few.

Once, sports were less entertainment and revenue streams from auto and beer makers seeking couch-bound consumers than an integral part of a classical education of the whole person. Hence, the term physical education. Brand must continue the re-integration of academics and athletics.

Though scandals, like quarterbacks, always draw more attention than good news or linemen, recent NCAA figures from outgoing President Cedric Dempsey offer encouragement; for the first time, graduation rates for athletes at the largest schools have reached 60%, two percentage points above the all-student graduation rate.

Learning to ethically balance competing interests is part of life's curriculum before and beyond the classroom. Here's another indication of our social imbalance: Brand will earn about half the salary of some famed college football coaches. Unlike some, he'll earn every penny.

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