Robert Gates ran the Pentagon. Can he help save the NCAA?

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The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in an antitrust case against the NCAA this summer, a signaling event for many college sports officials, but Gates worried about the future of the association long before that decision. When he was president of Texas A&M, he found the NCAA competent in organizing championship events and complying with national eligibility standards for athletes, but he also saw a set of rules that he compared to tax law, “a crippling bureaucracy and an organization that she found “. very difficult to change. “

When asked which organizational chart he found more off-putting – that of the Pentagon or the NCAA – he chuckled and replied, “Well, they’re comparable – and incomprehensible. They look like an AT&T circuit diagram. “

Gates’ subordinates at Texas A&M viewed him as an attentive to athletics, but not as a micromanager. He relied on athletic administrators for daily decisions, but also dined regularly with RC Slocum, the celebrated soccer coach whom he eventually ousted. (Speaking to Time while at the helm of the Department of Defense, Gates said he had often observed that “Texas A&M Football made me more stressful than any job I’ve ever had.”)

Slocum, who spent 30 seasons coaching Texas A&M, still fondly remembered Gates.

“I liked him, I thought he was smart and he wasn’t someone trying to interfere in our work,” Slocum said on Thursday.

Jeanne Sutherland, who ran the women’s golf program at Texas A&M for 15 seasons, recalled that Gates and his wife Becky Gates would invite championship teams to their home for dinner. Like Slocum, Sutherland remembered Gates as a president who set explicit standards and then moved out of the way.

“He was very clear to us what his expectations were and that was to run # 1 on a clean program and win # 2,” said Sutherland, now the Nebraska deputy head coach. “The clean program was at the top of the list.”

And while some university presidents deal with athletics at extremes – either no interest or virtual obsession – Kevin Weiberg, the Big 12 commissioner during Gates’ tenure at Texas A&M, recalled Gates struck a middle ground.


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