INDIANAPOLIS—NCAA president Myles Brand, who while leading Indiana University president fired basketball coach Bob Knight, died Wednesday afternoon from pancreatic cancer. He was 67. As the first former university president ever to run college sports' largest governing body, Brand worked to change the perception that wins supersede academics in college sports.
He broke the news that he had cancer in January at the NCAA convention and continued to run the organization's day-to-day operations, despite undergoing treatment. The NCAA announced his death. Officials were not ready to announce who would replace Brand or when they may begin searching for a successor.
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 hot-headed 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—firing the coach who won three national championships in Bloomington.
"That was a very difficult time for Myles, and I know he worked extremely hard to resolve those matters in a very, very different way. The way it ended up was not the way he wanted it to end," Terry Clapacs, a longtime university administrator who worked closely with Brand in the 1990s, said when Brand received an award in June. "But at some point, you have to make a decision that is tough for the university and he did that."
Students protested, gathering in front of Brand's home even hanging Brand 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, who saw Brand as a true reformer.
He also started his own podcast, added videos to the NCAA web site and routinely contradicted the myth of the "dumb jock" by citing figures showing student-athletes graduated at a higher rate than their fellow students.
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.
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.