Brand brings air of change

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

CHICAGO – The NCAA has stringent scholarship limits designed to stop basketball coaches from bringing in a bunch of kids and running them off if they aren't good enough.

Basically if a player leaves, you don't get that scholarship back until he would have graduated.

But the rules allow for zero leeway if a player graduates early, turns pro early or, most terribly, even if a player dies, as Georgia Tech's Michael Isenhour did last year.

By the NCAA's unbending and untrusting logic, a deceased player counts as a "run off" player. Your team is punished.

"Now wait a second," said none other than NCAA president Myles Brand. "That doesn't make sense. I don't think that was the intention [of the rule]."

If you follow college athletics you have said the same thing a million times. But to have the sitting NCAA president say it is historic. NCAA administrators never criticize NCAA rules. Ever.

But here was Brand, dare we say, preaching common sense. Plus, he did it in front of a room full of nearly 300 head coaches, most of whom were slack-jawed that an actual NCAA president dared talk to them.

So if you were looking for winners out of Wednesday's National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) ethics summit held here, you could start with Brand, the 10-months-on-the-job, ex-Indiana president whose previous claim to fame was firing Bob Knight.

Brand came here not just to talk but also to actually listen and learn from the assembled coaches. That alone sent a wave of optimism through this battered profession. Coaches, for once, actually believe they may have an ally in power.

"He really is good," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. "He listens. He really wants to listen. He wants to help."

How all of this helps college basketball solve its ethics problem takes some theorizing, but it is plausible.

As the thinking goes, the NCAA's constant nickel-and-dime penalties, its no-excuses jurisprudence and its apparent non-concern for the welfare of student-athletes has created a division between coach/player and the association.

The people on campus view the NCAA as bureaucrats and cops. The people at the NCAA see coaches and players as crooks and cheats.

So athletes and coaches stop believing in the NCAA mission, they grow callous to the rules and little violations beget big violations, which beget Dave Bliss.

"How can you expect the player or the coach to have any feelings for the organization?" Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim asked.

It doesn't excuse Bliss' behavior, but that does explain how one sport can have so many problems.

Those troubles led the NABC, scared that the public is losing faith in college basketball, to haul its coaches here to smile for the cameras and pledge allegiance to some kind of code of ethics.

But ethics codes are worthless if no one believes in the greater principle. And no matter how many coaches get together to sing "Kum Ba Yah" there has been cheating in college sports for 100 years.

As long as winning is still valued (and this is, after all, America), nothing is going to change.

"You can have ethics meetings every day, but you aren't going to remove rule violations," Boeheim said. "This isn't Pollyanna. Let's not be ridiculous."

But Brand gave this entire movement some hope, some life.

The fact that he came shouldn't be newsworthy, but it was. Incredibly few college coaches ever had spoken to an NCAA president. In the past, the kings rarely spoke to the pawns. So to have him not only talk but also admit the NCAA needs work was stunning.

"I never heard a president [criticize] because I had never been in a meeting with a president," said Boeheim, who has merely been involved in college sports for 40 years. "I've had more contact in one year with Dr. Brand than all the other presidents combined."

Brand's premise on Wednesday was that the NCAA and coaches need to work together – "partnership" was the word of the day. Together, the culture of the game can change.

Considering the reason there is an ethics summit is because of misbehaving coaches, it is reasonable to question the sanity of giving more voice to the NABC.

But Brand's olive branch, open communication line and promise of more reasonable governance were cause for celebration.

"It is huge," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "It can't get any bigger."

Perhaps the us vs. them era is ending. Perhaps a real dialogue can open. Perhaps a recommitment to the principles of college sports is possible.

Will it solve all of college sports' problems, eliminate cheating or rid the world of shady coaches? Of course not.

But it could make the NCAA a better place.

Which makes for a pretty fine effort Wednesday by its president, Myles Brand.

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