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The coaches' response to this commercial pressure has been to recruit the best athletes possible, not necessarily the most academically qualified. Although student athletes who struggle in class can usually get special tutoring, teams don't always stay vigilant after the sports season ends--and often pull their scholarships from those who lose athletic eligibility. After all, there's always a new class of freshman recruits to take the places of dropouts.
Although Brand preaches reform, the college-sports spectacle keeps expanding. A second 24-hour college-sports network, ESPNU, debuted on Friday, joining the two-year-old College Sports Television channel as a business trying to profit off of college games. Like CSTV, ESPNU will show minor sports like softball and swimming as well as football and basketball. "How much credibility can you assign to the NCAA when it's ratcheting up commercial interests?" asks Ellen Staurowsky, an Ithaca College sports-management professor and former college coach. Responds Brand: "These networks are allowing other participants to be on TV. It's a chance to celebrate the student athlete."
Others believe the NCAA should simply treat athletes as professionals. "Let's take away the sham," says Linda Bensel-Meyers, a University of Denver English professor and head of the Drake Group, an athletic-reform coalition. She says that since big-time athletes are revenue-producing assets for the school, teams should become subsidiaries, and players paid university employees rather than students. Bensel-Meyers, who received death threats while trying to expose academic corruption at the University of Tennessee in the late 1990s, says she still gets obscene phone calls because of her stances. Other Drake Group members have offered less radical proposals, such as revoking freshman eligibility, which would give incoming students a year to focus on school.
Even the NCAA's harshest critics applaud Brand, who took over the organization two years ago after a feud with volatile basketball coach Bob Knight thrust him into the spotlight. As president of Indiana University in 2000, Brand fired Knight after the coach, among other indiscretions, was caught on video grabbing a player's neck. As the first NCAA president pulled from academia, Brand has united university presidents behind his causes. For example, after news broke that Colorado football players allegedly threw sex parties to lure high school recruits, Brand quickly pushed through new regulations designed to eliminate the "culture of entitlement" in the recruiting process. "He doesn't take [expletive] from anyone, and that certainly helps in this job," says former I.U. English professor Murray Sperber, a noted NCAA foe who also sparred with Brand in Bloomington. "He has a sense of himself that previous directors just didn't have."