Who is Myles Brand?

Dr. Myles Brand was a philosopher, a leader, and a man who truly loved sports. As President of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Brand led an era of reform with a renewed commitment to the values of intercollegiate athletics.

He used his influence to promote the rights of student-athletes and greater equity in the world of sports. In 2004, Sports Business Journal named Brand the Most Influential Person in Intercollegiate Sports. Since his death, Brand’s legacy has lived on in his works and the countless people he impacted during his life.

Early Life

Myles Neal Brand was born in Brooklyn, New York, on May 17, 1942. His parents saw his early talent for math and science and thought he would excel in a vocational career, but even from an early age, Brand loved to read.

In his later years, Brand recalled disliking much of high school experience—except for his books and his sports. He played basketball and ran track, where he first discovered the incredible bonding power of youth sports that would shape the rest of his career.

When it came time for college, Brand attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering because it seemed a practical choice. But after a year, Brand began reconsidering his interests, with no clear direction or guidance until he took his first philosophy class.

There, he fell in love with the art of philosophical arguments, applying his analytical mind to the abstract concepts of life. And the rest, as they say, is history. In 1964, he got his B.S. in Philosophy, and then—only two and a half years later—he earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester in 1967.

From Action Theory to Action

As a philosopher, Brand’s subject of interest was an area of metaphysics known as action theory. The theory focused on defining an agent’s action by analyzing its component parts: intentions and plans. He published a variety of works on the subject, including The Nature of Human Action in 1970 and a book called Intending and Acting: Toward a Naturalized Action Theory in 1984.

Brand was especially interested in the practical objectives of applied philosophy, going beyond theoretical discussions into transformative actions. Trained as an undergraduate to solve mechanical problems, his thought processes often differed from those of philosophers who would leisurely ponder hypotheticals. Brand wanted to turn action theory into action.

In his career, Brand found the best way to achieve that goal was through administrative positions that afforded opportunities to accomplish change. His leadership in several philosophy departments across the country eventually led to his appointment as the Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona, Provost at The Ohio State University, and two tenures as a public university president: first at the University of Oregon and then at Indiana University.

The Philosopher President

Brand was named President of the University of Oregon in 1989, an appointment that marked a pivotal shift in his life and work. He moved away from his studies in action theory to focus on a different application of analytical philosophy—education.

Over the years, he developed his views on the purpose of higher education, emphasizing the moral imperative of teaching students alongside the importance of presidential leadership.

He believed that university presidents needed to be more actively engaged in their oversight role—especially regarding their athletic departments—in order to protect both the university’s and students’ interests. He was an advocate for underrepresented and minority students, and in all matters, he sought moderation and balance, citing Aristotle’s concept of the Golden Mean as a guiding principle.

On July 1, 1994, Brand was named President of Indiana University, where he led approximately 90,000 students with an unwavering commitment to those ethical values until 2003. During his Inaugural Address, Brand set the tone for his presidency by emphasizing that all people are morally obligated to look to the future and invest in the success of the next generations.

The Firing of Coach Knight

In 2000, Brand faced one of the most controversial decisions of his career when famed basketball coach Bob Knight was accused of a pattern of verbal and physical abuse against both students and staff. A seven-week investigation into Knight’s actions began that spring, which revealed repeated incidents of inappropriate behavior. In honor of his years of service and his staunch advocates, Brand gave Knight one final opportunity to correct his behavior, issuing a “zero tolerance” policy that explicitly outlined sanctions against him.

Several months into his probationary period, Knight violated the agreed-upon sanctions and initiated unwelcome physical contact with a student. Despite the outcry of fans across the country as well as supporters of the policy, Brand defended the student and fired Coach Knight on September 10, 2000.

Shortly afterwards, Brand delivered his first address to the National Press Club on January 23, 2001. There, he presented his plan for academic reform in intercollegiate sports: “Academics First.” He reminded the world that student-athletes are students first and that winning athletic competitions should never come at the expense of their academic success.

Leading the NCAA

Around that same time, NCAA President Cedric Dempsey announced his retirement by the end of 2002. As the NCAA began searching for a new president to lead the organization, they saw an opportunity to appoint someone who would actively prioritize the academic success of student-athletes. After a seven-month search process, the NCAA Executive Committee selected Myles Brand to serve as its new president and chief executive by unanimous decision in October 2002.

The NCAA was originally established in 1906 to reform college sports regulations to protect the well-being and interests of student-athletes. But throughout their history, the NCAA had never been led by a university president, someone who understood how to conceptualize athletics as part of a larger educational whole. Myles Brand was a first—and he brought a unique perspective that emphasized a healthy balance between academics and athletics.

Brand became President of the NCAA on January 1, 2003, and immediately began developing a plan to refocus the organization to better serve its mission. His first NCAA State of the Association Address—less than two weeks later—introduced the two vital goals of his presidency: reform and advocacy.

Reforming College Sports

Brand sought to affect a culture change within the NCAA, creating an organization that prioritized academics as much as athletics. To that end, he developed what he called a “value-based vision of intercollegiate athletics” that was more responsive to student-athlete’s academic needs and encouraged greater oversight by university presidents.

“Value-Based Vision of Intercollegiate Athletics”

Brand firmly believed that the objective of one’s college experience was graduation, but student-athletes were not always given the opportunity to prioritize their academics. So, he helped introduce the Graduation Success Rate (GSR) to more accurately assess graduation rates and the new Academic Progress Rate (APR), which would track student-athlete progress and hold universities accountable for their success.

The Academic Progress Rate (APR) measured a team’s academic performance through the eligibility and retention of student-athletes each term. If a team was underperforming, then the NCAA would impose sanctions until they improved. Those sanctions banned teams from competitions and reduced the number of hours allowed for athletic activities each week, giving students more time to focus on graduating.

Brand’s steadfast leadership through this reform process encouraged university presidents to stand firm as they faced complaints from fans and coaches. During Brand’s tenure, the NCAA became more willing to listen to student-athlete concerns and consider their individual cases fairly—all while steadily increasing their graduation rates and protecting their educational right to be a student.

Advocating for Equity

Throughout his career, Brand was a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion, continually expanding the scope of NCAA initiatives to address issues of injustice regarding race, gender, sexuality, and disability. He also sought to restructure the hierarchies of power and control that prevented true equity within athletics, advocating for more diversity in administrative positions.

Brand defended Title IX when it was under attack by President George W. Bush. He vehemently argued against the “dumb jock” myth that pervaded perceptions of African American athletes. And he often spoke out against the low numbers of women and people of color in administrative and coaching positions.

In August 2005, Brand created the NCAA’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion to actively support these efforts, hiring African American scholar Charlotte Westerhaus to serve as the Vice President of the office. Together, they developed and implemented programs such as the Diversity Education Program, the Football Coaches Academy, and the Leadership Institute for Ethnic Minority Males and Females.

Over the years, Brand repeatedly spoke on issues of social justice in sports, doing his part to change our culture for the better. Brand himself admitted that solving these injustice problems was one of the most persistent and frustrating challenges of his tenure: one that still, to this day, reveals an unfortunate resistance to racial and gender equity.

His Legacy

After six years of his leadership, Brand’s tenure as NCAA President was sadly cut short. On December 31, 2008, he was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, and his health began to severely decline. In consideration of his well-being, a shortened version of his final State of the Association Address was publicly delivered by Vice President Wallace Renfro in 2009.

Myles Brand continued his duties as President until he passed away on September 16, 2009. He was honored with the publication of the NCAA Tribute Book as well as a live telecast CBS Sports Tribute hosted by Jim Nantz and featuring soprano Sylvia McNair, rock legend John Mellencamp, and poet Garrett Hongo.

Today, Brand’s legacy lives on in the impact of his work. Before his death in 2009, Brand was pleased to see the success of his academic reform initiative. The APR data was steadily improving, and Division I institutions reached their initial goal of an 80% graduation rate. In 2023, twenty years after the GSR initiative began, the DI Graduation Rate is 91%—a number Brand would have been proud to see.