Myles Brand Final Four Press Conference
April 2, 2009
An interview with:
DR. MYLES BRAND
BOB WILLIAMS: Welcome and thank you for attending Dr. Brand's 2009 Men's Final Four press conference. I'm Bob Williams, managing director of public and media relations at the NCAA. Joining Dr. Brand this afternoon is Walt Harrison, president of the University of Hartford and chair of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance; Dan Guerrero, athletic director at the University of California, Los Angeles, and chair of the basketball academic enhancement group. And Kevin Weiberg, CEO of the Youth Basketball Initiative, announced last year by the NCAA and the NBA.
At this point I'll turn it over to Dr. Brand.
DR. MYLES BRAND: Thank you, Bob.
First, on a personal note, as many of you know, I'm facing some difficult health challenges. I just want to say thank you to the intercollegiate athletic community for their good wishes, letters, notes of support.
There are two major issues I'm tracking. First is academic reform, and the second is commercialism, financing of college sports.
Let's start with academic reform.
Academic reform continues to make serious progress and is getting great traction. We've announced record graduation rates this past year. 79% of our student athletes are graduating, according to the graduate success rate we use, which counts transfers.
We're seeing upward trends for men's baseball, basketball, and all male student athletes as a group. The only down number is a slight decline of 1% from football.
When you look specifically at men's basketball, the graduate success rate is up 10 percentage points in the last seven years, from 55 to 65.
When you look at the teams in the top eight seeds in this tournament, success rate has increased by 21 points over the last seven years. Over the last four years alone, the APR for men's basketball is up 53 points for those same teams.
We'll release new APR numbers in May for this past year, and my expectation is that we'll see continuation of the upward trends.
I'm going to turn it over now to Walt Harrison, who is the chair of our Committee on Academic Performance to give you the updates of the latest work of that important group.
WALT HARRISON: Myles is a very difficult act to follow. He just hit all the headlines.
I think all of us on our committee, which is made up of the presidents, athletic directors, conference administrators, are very gratified that the system for tracking the academic success of student athletes is accurate and is providing excellent motivation for our coaches and athletic staffs around the country to help improve student academic success. We're doing that with a combination of positive recognition for that success and penalties for teams that don't do well.
I'm very gratified that not only have these metrics gained traction, as Myles just said, but when I talked to the coaching community, as I do quite a bit, they understand the APR, they understand what they need to do to improve, and that they are active partners in this effort.
We're all very gratified about this. We know we have a ways to go.
Football and men's basketball, in particular. But, as Myles just said, we're seeing really excellent progress, and we continue to hope for more of the same.
The one initiative that we've undertaken at the behest of the board of directors this year is the establishment of a coach's APR rate. As I think most of you know, we track APR rates now by teams. And that information is available on the NCAA website and elsewhere. So we're not really creating any new information, but we're going to make it more accessible to people who want to see how a coach has done in his APR, his or her APR rate, in any given year, and then over their lifetime at the various institutions that they may have coached at.
We're doing that for two reasons. One, certainly it will be of help to the media, I think, in trying to establish how well or how poorly coaches have done over their lifetime. But just as importantly, it should be helpful to presidents and athletic directors in hiring of coaches in whatever sport.
So this is a coach's APR not only for basketball but for all of the sports that are sponsored by Division I institutions. We hope they'll help us in the hiring of coaches in the future.
Again, this is information that's available, but will now be more easily accessible to people.
There's a lot of data involved. There are thousands of teams in Division I, so it's going to take us about a year to compile these rates. But by next summer, we hope to be able to roll out these coach's APR rates.
The other thing we've done this year for the first time is to hold hearings in mid February for those teams that were facing the most serious of penalties, the Occasion 3 penalties. We felt the institutions that came before us had taken these problems seriously and, generally I can say, made meaningful steps in improvement. We'll be announcing those penalties, along with all of the other data that Myles referred to, in May.
I think we are certainly seeing the effects of APR overall.
DR. MYLES BRAND: Very good. We'll continue to look at new ways to improve our academic performance in basketball. For that reason we formed the basketball Academic Enhancement Group. Dan Guerrero on my right is UCLA AD, and he's also the chair of this group.
DAN GUERRERO: Thank you, Myles. It certainly is encouraging to hear that men's basketball academic progress is trending upwards, but there still is a lot of work to be done. The Basketball Academic Enhancement Group was appointed by the board of directors a little over 18 months ago. The full committee consists of 30 individuals, also comprised of college presidents, conference commissioners, athletic directors, Division I head coaches, representation from the NABC, and we've had the president of the student athlete advisory committee also sit in on our meetings.
We've done the bulk of our work through six subcommittees, subcommittees dealing specifically with academic preparation and academic support, player/coach relationships, recruiting, transfers, looking at both incoming and outgoing transfer situations, the 0 for 2 phenomenon, which is what we refer to as to that committee that deals in part with those student athletes who are trending to leave early to pursue professional opportunities. Then, of course, we're looking at playing and practice seasons.
The charge of the committee is to identify those factors that are inhibiting Division I men's basketball student athletes from performing in the classroom, as we believe that they should. Our charge is to look at those factors, recommend solutions, both legislative and non legislative, that will help to steer those student athletes on a path towards higher graduation rates, and certainly better overall academic performance.
After countless teleconferences and several face to face meetings, we believe that this coming Monday, we will have perhaps our last face to face meeting with the group. The issues, as you can imagine, are many, and they can be very complicated.
The one size fits all approach doesn't necessarily make sense in this regard because Division I is comprised of an extremely diverse set of member institutions.
However, there are certain areas where it's clearly evident that one size does fit all in relationship to the kinds of things that we can do. So we focused specifically on those areas.
It's important to note that as we've moved forward with our work, we've been very sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of constituent groups out there that have a stake in this game, if you will. When I say a stake in this game, whether it's faculty, commissioners, coaches, things of that nature, they all look at these issues from different filters, different perspectives. We felt that it was very important for us to be able to gain as much information as possible from all of the relevant constituent groups. So we've done that.
We have not necessarily moved quickly, if you will. We wanted to make certain that we took all the feedback, deliberated, been very thoughtful as we put together these recommendations.
The primary recommendation as we move forward, in a nutshell, deals with the summer school issue. The data clearly shows that those student athletes who enter summer school, especially before they become full time students, tend to perform better as they move throughout their collegiate careers. So we're focusing in large part on that issue, and subsequent summers, for certain student athletes that don't meet specific guidelines.
We're also looking at issues as they relate to playing and practice seasons just in a general sense. Those areas where missed class time becomes an issue. So we'll be recommending some areas in that regard.
And then, of course, there's the whole issue of transfers. Clearly the transfer situation is one that, as we look at the data, two year transfers, four year transfers, tend not to progress as successfully as those who are 'native' in their respective institutions. We will be perhaps making recommendations to study this particular area further, utilizing the CAP, the academics cabinet, things of that nature, to look at certain areas that may make sense in that regard.
Specifically, it's possible that we look at a concept that's called "The Year of Readiness," that being where a student athlete might enter a two year institution, actually serve a year there, where they basically either remediate or acclimate during the course of that year. Practice, not play, but also not have it count towards their eligibility clock. That's a concept that is being discussed right now.
The second was the possible sitting of a year, of a two year transfer who may not meet a certain academic standard. We're looking at the possibility of having them basically serve a year of residency at the four year institution prior to them becoming eligible. Nothing definitive at this point in that regard, but these are the kinds of things we're looking at.
On Monday, we'll be sort of finalizing some of these things, and hopefully we're looking to make a presentation to the board of directors later this spring.
DR. MYLES BRAND: Thank you, Dan.
The second area I want to talk about today is the financial picture of intercollegiate athletics and the role of commercial activity. The goal really here is to find a balance point between two extremes:
unbounded commercial activity, crass commercialism on one hand, and on the other hand an idealistic purism that really isn't appropriate for intercollegiate athletics. How you find that balance point is very difficult.
I talked about it at length in my state of the association speech.
I'm not going to try to reiterate the points I made there. But I do want to emphasize one of two points, namely commercialism is both necessary and appropriate to intercollegiate athletics, but only under two necessary conditions. The first, there is no exploitation of student athletes, they're not salesmen, they're not pro athletes, they're students. And the second, the activity must comport with the values of higher education.
In higher education, we have a complex structure that's very different from the professional leagues. The NCAA represents all the schools, but there's a great deal of autonomy in each institution and for each conference. And we leave to those schools and those conferences matters of taste. We don't try to legislate that. So as long as we're not exploiting student athletes, and we're generally in accord with the value of higher education, we leave to the schools and conferences to decide how commercialism is to be conducted.
And there are differences amongst schools and conferences in regions of the country how that might best take place. But the reason for that is because of the structure of intercollegiate athletics that involves autonomy amongst those different kinds of entities.
Finally, I want to update you briefly on the Youth Basketball Initiative. We spent a great deal of time this past year identifying a CEO for this initiative. I'm pleased to say, it's not an announcement, because he's already been in place for some time now, that we've hired Kevin Weiberg. Kevin is working hard right now in terms of the initiation of the youth basketball initiative. I'll turn to him to bring you up to date.
KEVIN WEIBERG: Thank you, Myles.
Good afternoon, everyone. I know for President Brand and those who have worked on putting this effort together, it seems like a significant amount of time has passed, including the announcement at the Final Four last year. But for me, this has been a very fast and a very short 90 day period since I started in the position.
I do want to express my appreciation to NCAA and to NBA staff who have worked with me over the past three months and have given a significant amount of their time to the organization of our youth basketball efforts, at a time that is arguably their most busy period of the year. I appreciate that very much.
When I started on January 5, I was provided with a furnished office in a downtown Indianapolis office building, but had no employees, no computers and no phones. Now, I understand when you have no employees, you probably don't need computers and phones, and that situation was quickly rectified by NCAA staff.
But I raise it as a way of illustrating that this is very much a start up operation. So I've had to spend a significant amount of time on the basics, including the building of an initial operating budget for the youth basketball effort.
But we are making progress. And beyond the basics, I have focused my attention on three key areas so far: people, technology, and programs.
First on the people side. I have moved forward on hiring a small staff of people that will grow to about a dozen by the end of the summer. We now have three full time people onboard and we are close to completing searches that will add two more key staff members to our office.
I've also spent a good deal of time in this early stage reaching out to stakeholder groups. I've made personal visits to a number of headquarters of groups involved with youth basketball. And I've been encouraged by the level of interest in this initiative by the expression of a willingness to help in what we're trying to do.
And I think I've also received a dose of realism from those visits.
In fact, it's been very common to kind of have an expression at the end of my meeting as a farewell expression of, Good luck. I've certainly noticed the tone with which that has been expressed. I don't think there's any question that this is going to be a very challenging task.
On the technology front, I have worked closely with NBA and NCAA staff as we have been in the process of searching for and negotiating with technology companies. When the process is completed, the technology partner will build and operate a first class website for the initiative. In order to be able to reach the millions of young people who play the sport, their families, coaches, and officials, we must have a dynamic presence on the Internet. This really is the backbone of the venture, the backbone of what we're trying to do.
We're making progress in this area, and I expect we will have a website launched by the summer.
A related effort to develop a name and mark for the initiative is in progress and should be completed soon.
Third, I have begun the process of refining and testing key program ideas, mindful of the goals of bringing more structure to precollegiate youth basketball, and of providing a more balanced set of messages to the young people who excel in the sport.
We continue to focus on, one, the development of standards for the conduct of youth events and a related sanctioning process for those events; the development of competitive guidelines for travel and club teams may be included in this effort as well, to address things like the number of games played and season length.
Two, enhance training programs for youth coaches and officials, including a process of certification.
Three, an outreach effort to rising elite players and their families that will include elements of the NCAA First Team Program.
And, four, a national program emphasizing basketball fundamentals, skill development, and teamwork directed at youngers players, which will include some aspects of the junior NBA and junior WNBA programs.
We hope to be in a position to have some programs up and running by the fall or winter of 2009, with the understanding that some of these programs may require multi year implementation.
The well documented challenges associated with youth basketball have developed over several decades. It's going to take time, patience, and persistence to make a difference in this area. And, as was stated at last year's press conference, I don't think we're going to solve every problem in this area. But it is an effort worth making and I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to work on it.
Thanks for the chance to provide an update.
DR. MYLES BRAND: Thank you, Kevin.
BOB WILLIAMS: At this time, we'd like to open it up for questions.
Q. The reports by the Knight Commission going back 20 years called the financial arms race among athletic departments the biggest threat to college sports, yet only a few programs make a profit, most require increasing subsidies from the schools. Other than loosening the rules on commercialization, what has the NCAA done to slow those costs down?
DR. MYLES BRAND: We actually haven't loosened the rules. I wouldn't describe it that way. What we've tried to do is bring some order to them.
We've tried to make known the information you just cited. For a long time it was believed that you could make money doing this. Right now, as everyone knows, if you're going to support the entire program, not just the two revenue sports, it's highly likely you're going to lose money.
We've held presidential meetings and task forces to try to disseminate information.
But and this is the key point the decision on how much to spend and on what to spend is not an NCAA decision. It relies solely on the individual president and his or her institution and their board of directors. There are legal reasons for that, as well as practical reasons. So the NCAA itself, besides disseminating information, talking about good practices, talking about the truth of the matter, cannot control the individual spending decisions of the institutions.
Q. Wasn't it the point, though, of turning the operation over to the college presidents in 1997, to basically give them the chance to make those decisions as a group?
DR. MYLES BRAND: And they did make the decisions individually. They can't make it as a group. It's illegal for us to try and control who's hired and for how much you pay those people. So we can't do that.
What the '97, report was, was really an attempt to inform the presidents better about what the facts of the matter are. And I think we've done a good job informing them. They still do make their own decisions, though.
Q. Mr. Weiberg, I'm trying to understand with the Youth Basketball Initiative, are you saying you can put a limit on the number of games these high schoolers are playing on the club circuit?
KEVIN WEIBERG: I think the idea is to provide some guidelines for the conduct of those kinds of club and travel team programs. So this isn't a regulatory function in the sense that you might think of an NCAA rule or something like that, but rather an attempt to build best practices. To try to have a series of principles that we hope that folks who operate teams and clubs will want to follow and want to adhere to. And, in addition, that will be able to promote those principles and best practices through our digital media business in such a way that families and players will want to understand what clubs adhere to the practices, that, through a common effort, we have developed, that we think can be helpful and useful and represent things that are appropriate for kids of varying age levels.
So it isn't a pure regulatory effort in the sense of the word you might think of an establishment of rules, but more an attempt to kind of elevate best practices.
Q. Dr. Brand, could you talk about balancing what you're going through personally with the work load, and if perhaps work is kind of helping you pull you through the normalcy of it?
DR. MYLES BRAND: That's a good point. Actually, the work is pulling me through the normalcy of it. I've slowed down. I haven't been traveling very much at all. But it's been a challenge.
But, as I said at the beginning, the outpouring of support from the athletic community has been overwhelming and I've appreciated that.
But the work has actually made it a lot more bearable.
Q. Dr. Brand, downtown Detroit is an interesting location for the Final Four. One of the attractions is three gambling casinos, and some of the student athletes have been taking advantage of them and going to them, quite legally. Is it all right with you if the participants gamble or do you think it leads to a slippery slope in a sport that has been tainted by gambling?
DR. MYLES BRAND: Well, I warn against that slippery slope. It's a fair question.
We do not permit anyone connected with intercollegiate athletics to gamble on sports, pro or college sports. What a student does, plays bingo in his church, for example, while we discourage that, we prefer not to try and regulate that particular kind of activity. But it's highly discouraged.
Q. Can you talk about being here in Detroit, the venue, the job that they have done to prepare for the Final Four.
DR. MYLES BRAND: Yes. We've decided about coming to Detroit, I think it was as long as six years ago. A lot has happened in six years. A lot has happened in the last few months.
Detroit is a wonderful venue. It's really, truly outstanding. And the city has turned out for it. We're very pleased with the reception we've received. Everyone has not only been kind, but they've been very helpful and professional.
We're very pleased to be in Detroit. We think this is a privilege for us to be here, particularly at this time that Detroit is going through some difficult financial times itself. We're happy to help and we're happy to leave something behind, as well.
So Detroit is a great venue for us and we're fortunate to be here at this time.
Q. You were talking about money and that institutions get to decide what they want to spend. We just had a coach sign a contract for almost $4 million a year at Kentucky. Just wanted to get your reaction to that.
DR. MYLES BRAND: Well, there's obviously market dimension to it, because that's what the market paid.
I think, however, you have to ask some very hard questions, whether this is really in tune with the academic values, whether we've reached a point already that these high salary and packages for coaches has really extended beyond what's expected within the academic community.
Those questions really have to be asked. Now, we can't answer them.
It's anti trust if we were to try to regulate any salaries. But I would hope our university presidents and our conferences would ask those questions themselves.
I think those questions need to be asked, and the case in point is evidence for that.
WALT HARRISON: Can I just add a word? As a campus president, I served on the commercialism task force. Before that I served on the presidential task force that looked at financing of athletics. As your colleague said earlier, all the data indicates that very, very few institutions actually make money at athletics, a half dozen possibly out of 350 or so odd institutions in Division I.
Nevertheless, institutions persist on spending more money on everything from coach's salaries to facilities. I think coach's salaries get the headlines, and facilities probably in terms of dollars are the biggest expense.
I think all of us who served on these task forces, and certainly Myles and the NCAA staff, are very focused on it. And when you get an eye popping, mind boggling salary like the one you just referred to, it really brings you up short. Sort of takes your breath away in this economic environment.
But there is a really important principle involved that Myles cited, and that is that the NCAA is an association of institutions. It's not a league, like the professional leagues. We can't set salary caps. We probably could, if our members wanted us to, set other spending limits, but they don't want us to.
So for us, it's a very tight balancing act. And I think Myles has done a great job of actually using the bully pulpit to try to call attention to those of us who lead our institutions to the problems of continually escalating costs in athletics without real financial results from that.
But beyond that, there's a limit to what we can do. You all remember the restricted earnings coach case. We simply can't get close to legally setting salaries. On the other matters, the best thing we can do is keep calling people's attention to it.
I think because of the enforcement side of the NCAA, where people are used to us enforcing our own rules and regulations, they expect us to be able to do a lot of other things. And that's not what the association does outside of rules enforcement. So I think we're all aware of it. But each of us who are presidents or chancellors of our institutions bear the responsibility for the decisions our individual institutions make.
Q. I understand the reality of it, yet sometimes it seems like the NCAA rules and what it can't do comes off as a bit of something I hate to say this but that you can hide behind. In an organization that has a rule book that is often ridiculed for its intricacies, do you ever get any kind of real movement among the membership to address that or are you kind of stuck just talking about it and using the bully pulpit?
DR. MYLES BRAND: I think when it comes to student athletes, which most of the rules we have pertain to, the membership has ceded authority to us, and we can act in those regards. So we do investigations and we do punishments and so on.
But when it comes to competitive issues on who you hire, who you recruit, how you recruit, there is a very limited role that's been ceded to us. Would I like to have a larger role so we can, except for the financial issues, have a much larger say? Yes. But our members really want to remain in control. They have autonomy in these issues.
When it comes to financial issues, the members can't cede to us because the law courts won't let them. So we are stuck there. I think that mid 1980s restricted earnings coach has long repercussions, not just in football, but in basketball as well.
And the members are competitive. The alumni and friends of the institution want to hire a particular coach, and they'll push the institution to do it. The individual president must make that decision, and he or she has to deal with their own board. But the national office doesn't have a role to play in hiring/firing coaches, doesn't have a role to play in salaries, doesn't have a role to play in which a new arena should be put up, even though that is probably 25% of athletic budgets these days.
DAN GUERRERO: If I can make a comment also. In light of the present economic climate, I can assure you with the highest degree of confidence that many athletic directors, conferences, are meeting as we speak in many respects to look at cost containment issues, whether they be conference wide issues, whether they look at potential national legislative issues, and certainly the kinds of things that we might do on our respective campuses.
It's not just salaries. It's operations. It's recruiting. It's scheduling. Just a number of things that we're looking at to possibly deal with the economic climate.
Q. The numbers of student athletes who are enrolling in universities that are learning disabled, or being classified as learning disabled, are increasing. I'm wondering what kind of challenges is that presenting in light of academic reform that is spearheading so much of what you're doing? Are the institutions really equipped to take on as many things as they're taking on?
DR. MYLES BRAND: We have actually researched that issue pretty extensively this past year to make sure we understand the claims are being made appropriately and how to adjudicate the differences when there are some. Those students are best dealt with on their own campuses, but we have some new rules in place that I think will be helpful.
On are the institutions equipped to take on learning disabled students, yes, they are, in the general population, as well as those with student athletes. That's where the hard work needs to be done on the campus level.
WALT HARRISON: The initiative that Myles has referred to goes by the acronym of the F.L.A.G. Program. Not I personally, but a number of people spent a great deal of time looking at just the problem. You're identifying at risk students, not only students with learning disabilities, but other issues that would identify them as being at risk.
As Myles said, I think our institutions have the capability to deal with learning disabled students. We do it all the time. At the University of Hartford, we have a special center that deals with this.
I think every university in the country has a similar program.
The question is, have we really applied the principles we know are good educational principles to the experiences of student athletes who have different time requirements on them, who have different pressures to succeed and so forth? So what the F.L.A.G. Program, as we roll it out over the next few months, what we're going to try to do is see what we can do in the way of best practices, loosening requirements where necessary, giving these students a chance to take advantage of the programs that we have on our campuses.
I think we've learned a lot as educators over the last couple decades about the various learning abilities and stabilities of students. I think we're addressing that at the NCAA level by trying to tailor this for student athletes.
Q. Dr. Brand, you mentioned crass commercialism. How would you define that and how would you differentiate it from other commercialism? Can you give an example of each that you see?
DR. MYLES BRAND: Well, it's sort of you see it when you know it.
Sometimes there's too much time taken up in terms of commercial activity. Sometimes it detracts from the games. For example, in the NCAA events, such as the Final Four, we had a rather clean venue. So I think how the venue looks and feels depends upon the commercial activity.
Now, different venues are done in different ways, and they're not all as clean as the NCAA is. But we try and keep a clean venue. So that would be a case of trying to balance, I think, reasonable commercialism with over the top.
I don't know if I have a definition of it that I can provide you with.
WALT HARRISON: Just to add to the last answer. Myles has made this point many times. The question isn't that athletics is the one area of a university that's open to commercialism. Many parts of the university are involved with corporations and commercial enterprises.
If you have a medical center on your campus, as an example, you're dealing with close ties with pharmaceutical companies and other medical, technical device companies all the time, working on partnerships, developing products, testing these products. At our university, we have very close ties between our engineering and business schools and the local corporations in Hartford.
So I don't think it's a matter of whether universities ought to have connections with the corporate ties, and I don't think it's a question of whether NCAA tournaments like this ought to have corporate connections.
As Myles keeps pointing out, it's doing that and staying true to our educational mission and our focus. We do that at our medical centers as an example. We all have rules about what we can or can't do when we're testing products, for example, or pharmaceutical discoveries.
We're attempting to establish those same kinds of rules for athletics, what's appropriate and what's not appropriate.
As Myles said, I don't think it's an easy black and white distinction. But we're working our way through that. And the new technology that's available brings us new challenges every day on how we regulate that.
DR. MYLES BRAND: It's not that commercialism is bad. It's not necessarily by itself bad. It is an important part of our academic institutions. Certainly write about how extensive it is throughout the entire institution. It's how it's used, and in particular, what role the student athletes play in it. As long as they're not exploited, as long as they're not holding up a product and made into salesmen, that's very important.
We can legislate that aspect of it and we are doing that. But the matter of taste, how far you go, how many seconds you commit to a commercial, and what the venue looks like, matter of taste differs greatly from institution to institution. The NCAA has taken a rather clean line, but others may not have done so.
We can't legislate taste, and we don't think we should. But it isn't that we need to do away with commercialism, it's just that we need to get it under control, meaning that what happens is in the best interest of the institution, the academic community, and there's no exploitation of the student athletes.
BOB WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.