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Flashback: NCAA’s first Black president

Diane Xavier | 4/3/2014, 5:10 p.m.
Dr. James Frank

The Dallas Examiner

From Bob Kurland to Bill Russell, then on to Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Tyler Hansbrough and Andrew Wiggins, the torch continues to be passed in the quest for achieving one of college sports most sacred trophies, the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship.

Considered to be one of the most popular sporting events in the United States, March Madness takes over the nation each year as college basketball teams compete to make it to the Final Four.

As fans filled out their brackets, coaches planned strategies, and teams battle to advance in the tournament, the popularity of the game continues.

Every decade boasts its own great storylines. That legacy continues today as this year’s Final Four candidates; Florida, UCONN, Kentucky and Wisconsin hope to create their own great tale at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington on April 5 and April 7.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, first introduced in 1939 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, has grown from 32 teams to 68 today.

The popularity of the game has grown so much that the organization credits the majority of its revenue to television and marketing rights fees for the right to broadcast the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.

In 2013, the NCAA had a $61 million surplus, of which the majority can be attributed to men’s college basketball.

Much of the spark that led to the organization’s success is Dr. James Frank, the NCAA’s first African American president, who served from 1981 to 1983.

During his term, he made significant contributions that changed the league with reforms such as presiding over the passing of Proposition 48 of the NCAA bylaws, which set eligibility standards for incoming freshman student athletes, requiring student athletes to have a 2.0 minimum GPA, a 700 score on the SAT, and 11 core classes. As a result, graduation rates among student athletes increased.

In 1981, he helped incorporate women’s sports into the NCAA. Prior to this, women’s college athletics were governed by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics.

He is also credited with emphasizing presidential participation in college athletics at a time when presidents were not active in participating in NCAA meetings.

Of all his achievements, his decision to abolish the NCAA television monopoly might be his greatest legacy. According to Frank, at one time, the NCAA negotiated all of the contracts for the schools. Today, conferences and schools do their own negotiating as a result of his leadership.

“As president, I dealt with some real tough issues,” Frank said. “At the time, the NCAA did all the television negotiating and the money was distributed disproportionately between the larger schools and the smaller schools. The big question was property rights. The College Football Association felt that schools and conferences should negotiate their own television contracts and a special NCAA convention was held to resolve the conflict.”

Frank said the NCAA today has gotten bigger per school and the biggest change structurally is how the organization is governed.