Who Will Be the Next NCAA President?

September 22, 2009

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has selected one of its own, James L. Isch, to temporarily lead college sports' governing body. But the search has only just begun for a long-term successor to Myles Brand, who served for six years as the organization's president until his death last week of pancreatic cancer.

The first college president to lead the NCAA, Mr. Brand is thought by many to have fundamentally transformed the nature of the position into one that can only be held by an academic. The former president of two large public universities, Mr. Brand brought a different tenor to the NCAA helm, where he often used his bully pulpit to push for stricter academic standards for athletes.

For that reason, many in college sports believe the next NCAA president will be a sitting or former college president. The Chronicle posed the question of who might succeed Mr. Brand to a group of leaders in college sports. From their responses, the following list emerged.

Bernard L. Franklin, NCAA executive vice president. Mr. Franklin was one of four NCAA executives who stepped up to guide the association during Mr. Brand's illness. President of four different colleges before he joined the NCAA in 2003, the largest of which was Virginia Union University, Mr. Franklin knows the ways of the college presidency and the inner workings of the NCAA.

Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford. Mr. Brand's closest collaborator on academic reform, Mr. Harrison has shepherded the NCAA's academic policies through their first several years. Though Hartford is not a Division I-A institution, Mr. Harrison was a top administrator for many years at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and understands well the issues facing the largest athletics programs.

Gene Smith, athletic director and associate vice president, Ohio State University. If the search committee does stray from the mold of the college president, Mr. Smith, known as a thoughtful leader in college sports, could be a top choice. Ohio State's athletics program has 36 sports, and its budget is among the biggest in the nation. Mr. Smith is admired for his ability to manage it so the program is self-sustaining.

Michael L. Slive, commissioner, Southeastern Conference. Mr. Slive occupies the top seat in the richest and most-powerful athletics conference. A shrewd negotiator, Mr. Slive, who is also a lawyer, inked a highly lucrative media-rights deal between the Southeastern Conference and ESPN last year. The NCAA's television contract with CBS expires next year, so a president with Mr. Slive's deal-making skills could prove useful.

Condoleezza Rice, a former U.S. secretary of state and a professor at Stanford University. Perhaps the most unconventional pick on the list. Ms. Rice is a former provost at Stanford and a passionate fan of college football, and she has the political savvy to handle the high-level negotiations that come with the job. Her name was floated briefly earlier this year when the Pacific-10 Conference was looking for a new commissioner, but she wasn't interested.