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NCAA hit by crime wave

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

NCAA President Myles Brand surveyed the college landscape after eight months on the job and said Thursday, ''metaphorically speaking, it's almost as if there is a crime wave out there.''

Except there's nothing almost or metaphorical about it.

Coast to coast, at big schools and small, from university presidents to student-athletes, everybody seems to be in on the action. Most colleges are still on summer vacation, but headline writers haven't lacked for material.

Heard the one about the basketball coach in Texas who tried to cover up his own sins by framing a dead kid from his program?

How about the kid who might be the best tailback in the nation claiming thieves took enough audio and video equipment out of a car he was TEST-DRIVING (emphasis mine) to outfit Master P's home theater?

Or how about the teaching assistant from the same school clue: it rhymes with ''Buy Your Fate'' who said the star running back and some teammates got crib sheets from tutors and traded answers?

Brand has heard them all, and watched the footage from the latest ''Coaches Gone Wild'' video. To put it mildly, he's fed up.

What's made it even tougher to hold his tongue is how the tsunami of bad news drowned out any mention of the strides the NCAA made in academic reform and forcing university presidents to take responsibility for the leaking ships they're steering.

''I'm just appalled by what's going on right now in college sports. We have high profile coaches clearly misbehaving and being bad actors and the usual number of student-athletes (in trouble) has even increased,'' Brand said.

''The NCAA cannot control individual behavior, that's up to the individuals. But when we have a crime wave, we have to take action. The NCAA will work harder and more diligently.''

During a telephone interview Thursday from Indianapolis headquarters, Brand candidly acknowledged just about every problem that's crossed his desk since taking the reins at the NCAA.

The former Indiana University president has done most of his work behind the scenes so far, but that might change. He is no stranger to bold words or actions, either. Three years ago, Brand put Bob Knight on a zero-tolerance diet and then banished the red-sweatered menace from Bloomington as soon as he fell off the wagon again. Brand sees some of that same arrogance around today.

''The way some coaches are acting, they seem to feel they're above normal considerations and morality, and that's highly unacceptable,'' he said. ''Perhaps they believe their market value gives them permission not to follow the rules of morality and that's just false.''

If acknowledging a problem is the first step toward a solution, Brand is headed in the right direction. Besides adding investigators, he's begun naming names praising some people and calling out others for their handling of various scandals and he didn't exempt college presidents. Some of his former colleagues, in fact, came in for both.

He called the Atlantic Coast Conference raid on the Big East to steal football power Miami ''a debacle,'' and Georgia president Michael Adams' decision to hire Jim Harrick shortsighted, considering the mess the former UCLA and Rhode Island basketball coach left at both schools.

''But the good news,'' Brand said of Adams, ''is that he acted swiftly and quickly to clean up the problem, despite strong local opposition. ... By and large, the presidents are standing up.''

And if there's been an upside to his brief tenure, that's been it.

When Brand and his peers wrested control of the NCAA from athletic department administrators in 1997, they promised to bring transparency to the process and accountability to the president's office. He conceded that ''was not always true in the past,'' and that ''bad actors'' still occupied the top office at some schools.

But Brand insisted accountability is up already, and increasing pressure from the NCAA, media and public can only accelerate the trend.

''Until recently, many of these cases did not come to light so easily. I don't know if anybody has been counting ... but my sense of the matter is that we've seen a pickup of people misbehaving. It's not just that presidents are ferreting out bad behavior, but the media is playing its part, and so are people out there.''

''Whether it's the Internet or the media being more alert and listening to people tipping them off, I'm not sure. But I think the quick actions taken at Alabama and Iowa State show the environment has changed.''

Those references were to Mike Price, who lost the Alabama football job after stories revealed a night spent cavorting with adult dancers; and Larry Eustachy, who vacated the Iowa State basketball job after pictures surfaced showing he spent a few nights cavorting with coeds on rival campuses.

''Because we have very highly compensated professionals who are supposed to be experienced and at the top of their game, the expectations are high and rightly so,'' he said.

Brand's toughest task will be to apply that standard across the board. One of the sad things about the preferential treatment allegedly afforded Ohio State star Maurice Clarrett in the classroom is that the graduation rates for all athletes have started improving significantly.

But Brand is a realist and he knows numbers like that will be forgotten when the Buckeyes roll into Ann Arbor to play Michigan in November. His job is to make sure that fans' memories of those special weekends aren't tainted by revelations in the days following.

Wish Brand luck. He's going to need plenty of it.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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