Dale Brown has fought against NCAA for a long time and still does.
The former LSU basketball coach didn’t like the bureaucratic organization’s hypocrisy and its lack of common sense rules. So he became a compassionate voice and strong advocate for his players, or as NCAA prefers, student-athletes.
And Brown — who remains a popular figure in Kentucky despite his annual SEC battles with the Wildcats from 1972 to 1997 — was one of many individuals featured in a new book, titled “Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA,” which came out in February. The authors — Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss — have done a good job in telling the remarkable story of a loose-knit group of rebels who decided to fight NCAA.
“Dale (Brown) is one-of-a-kind,” said Strauss, who is a contributing writer for the New York Times. “He is passionate, persistent and has been one of the loudest voices for change in college for decades, long before there was much of a chorus around him. “
The book discusses two of Brown’s former players at LSU during the 1980s — Zoran Jovanovich and Mark Alcorn — and their difficulties in getting medical or related help because of rigid NCAA rules.
Added Strauss, “The most surprising thing I learned about him (Brown) was the story about Mark Alcorn. It was one of the most heartbreaking I came across in years of research. He was diagnosed with cancer and returned home to Missouri for treatment. His parents later threw a fundraiser for him, and asked Dale to send three of Alcorn’s teammates to the event.
“After pouring so much money into treatment for their son, they asked Brown and LSU if they could cover the (players’) cost. It was, essentially, Alcorn’s dying wish. Dale said of course he would do it. But when he asked the NCAA, he was told paying for the players’ transportation violated the association’s rules.
“So Dale called the players into his office and drew the blinds. He handed them envelopes filled with cash, enough to cover a red-eye flight, a hotel room and some food. He told this story and explained that here we were doing this basic act of kindness and he felt like there were cameras watching him. It’s powerful stuff. “
When he was coaching, the personable Brown said he followed the rules, but whenever he was confronted with his players’ hardship or tragedy, he had to find help somehow.
“Only rules I broke had to do with human dignity and that was after they were already at LSU,” said Brown, a four-time SEC Coach of the Year selection with four conference regular season titles and two NCAA Final Four appearances. “I called NCAA first and explained the situations but they could have cared less.
“I was never afraid of ever losing my job because these things had to do with common sense and dignity, not for any other reason.”
Brown — who had been the target of several NCAA investigations — has seen the 369-page hardcover (Portfolio/Penguin, $30.00) and he’s pleased.
“I applauded Joe Nocera from New York Times for writing the book,” he said in an interview with this columnist last month when he attended the Kentucky-LSU game at Rupp Arena. “His heart was in the right place. He wasn’t writing with emotions. He was writing with facts. I think the thing he made quite clear, for years, the NCAA has just landed the official monument to hypocrisy. Frank Deford from Sports Illustrated said it is the largest legal cartel in the world. So I admire what he did.”
The authors have argued the NCAA is morally bankrupt in many ways. Its first executive director — a former sportswriter — made up the term “student-athlete” to avoid workers’ compensation lawsuits. Its 400-page rulebook basically forbids athletes — poor or rich — from receiving human kindness such as a ride or a meal. Its investigation methods have been reported questionable in many cases. Its huge TV money isn’t shared with the student-athletes with exception of his or her stipends which cover extra expenses while in college.
Since he retired from coaching in 1997, Brown feels the NCAA has made progress, but still has ways to go as far as dealing with student-athletes, among several issues.
“I think there is no question that they’ve made progress but I add an asterisk to that,” said Brown, looking healthy at his current age of 80. “They’ve come millions of miles, but they’ve got light years to go and light travel is 186,000 miles a second so they’ve got a long way to go.
“But I do think that (NCAA president) Mark Emmert has made himself more available than he has been to other people. So they have made progress but not nearly enough.”
Even though Emmert knew the “Indentured” book unlikely would treat him or the NCAA well, he was still gracious to give a lengthy interview and allow the material to be used for the book, according to the authors.
The entertaining book, which so far has had great reviews, also discusses Emmert and ex-NCAA president Myles Brand and their contrasting personalities. When Brand was president at Indiana University, he was the one who fired controversial coach Bobby Knight. Interestingly, the Brand-Knight argument actually began over the coach’s planned fishing trip.
As you can see, Brown — who is SEC’s third winningest coach of all-time with 448 victories (behind Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and Florida’s Billy Donovan) — sure knows how to help, fight and win, in no particular order.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com online magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at [email protected]