INDIANAPOLIS – NCAA president Myles Brand, who as head of Indiana University sparked massive protests by firing Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight, died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer. He was 67.
The first former university president to run college sports' largest governing body, Brand worked to change the perception that wins supersede academics and earned accolades for his efforts.
Brand broke the news that he had cancer in January at the NCAA convention and continued to handle the organization's day-to-day operations, despite undergoing treatment. NCAA officials, who announced his death, were not ready to say who would replace Brand or when they may begin searching for a successor.
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"Myles Brand's passing is a great personal loss of a dear friend and an even greater loss to the NCAA and collegiate athletics," said Georgia president Michael Adams, who worked closely with Brand. "I believe Myles will be remembered as a person who helped us refocus on the student in student-athlete and his academic reforms will long outlive him."
Brand gained national attention in May 2000 when he put Knight on a zero-tolerance policy after a former player alleged the hugely successful but hotheaded coach had choked him during a practice years earlier.
Four months after that announcement, freshman Kent Harvey accused Knight of grabbing him, and Brand did what fans considered unthinkable — he fired the coach who won three national championships in Bloomington.
Knight later moved on to Texas Tech, stepping aside for his son, Pat Knight, in February 2008. Texas Tech spokesman Randy Farley said Bob Knight left Lubbock on Tuesday and wouldn't be back until next month.
"Just because he fired us doesn't mean we want anything bad to happen," Pat Knight said. "That's shocking. I don't wish death upon anybody. That's sad, no matter who it is."
Indiana students protested at the time of the firing, gathering in front of Brand's home and even hanging him in effigy, but his decision gave Brand a platform to address the problems he saw in college sports.
During a January 2001 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Brand criticized the growing "arms race" in college sports, saying that school presidents faced tough challenges with celebrity coaches and suggesting the emphasis on winning championships endangered the real mission of universities.
In October 2002, Brand was hired to lead the NCAA and used that position to move his agenda forward.
After his term began in January 2003, Brand pushed for tougher eligibility standards for incoming freshman and current students. Eventually, the NCAA adopted two new academic measures, the Academic Progress Report and the Graduation Success Rate — calculations that provide real-time statistics on how athletes are performing in the classroom.
Those initiatives earned praise from university administrators and others.
"This was a man who understood the importance of higher education, as well as the benefit of athletics participation as part of the educational experience," NCAA executive vice president Bernard Franklin said in a statement. "He did not waver from that as a tenet of NCAA operations."
Brand also helped the NCAA embrace the 21st century, starting his own podcast and adding videos to the NCAA Web site. He routinely contradicted the myth of the "dumb jock" by citing figures showing student-athletes graduated at a higher rate than their fellow students.
Some early critics thought he didn't know enough about sports to run the NCAA, but later conceded Brand listened more to coaches and athletes than previous NCAA chiefs.
"He worked very closely through the National Association of Basketball Coaches to really, not only listen, but hear what the coach's concerns were," former Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton said. "He took that to the NCAA membership. He probably did that better than most any of his predecessors."
Brand also helped secure an unprecedented agreement to keep Indianapolis in the regular Final Four rotation through 2039 and got the NCAA involved in helping design the city's new Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I believe Myles provided a great deal of wise leadership to the NCAA and that his achievements in the academic area were very significant," former Pac-10 commissioner Tom Hansen said. "I regret very much his passing and that we'll be deprived of his leadership in the future. I thought he did a tremendous job."
Before taking over at Indiana, Brand spent five years as president at the University of Oregon. He also held administrative posts at Ohio State and led the philosophy departments at the University of Arizona and Illinois-Chicago after starting his career as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
Brand earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in 1964 and received a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Rochester in 1967. He is survived by his wife and a son.