Founded more than one hundred years ago as a way to protect student-athletes, the NCAA continues to implement that principle with increased emphasis on both athletics and academic excellence.
The NCAA is made up of three membership classifications that are known as Divisions I, II and III. Each division creates its own rules governing personnel, amateurism, recruiting, eligibility, benefits, financial aid, and playing and practice seasons – consistent with the overall governing principles of the Association. Every program must affiliate its core program with one of the three divisions.
The NCAA was founded in 1906 to protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices of the time.
The rugged nature of early-day football, typified by mass formations and gang tackling, resulted in numerous injuries and deaths and prompted many college and universities to discontinue the sport. In many places, college football was run by student groups that often hired players and allowed them to compete as non-students. Common sentiment among the public was that college football should be reformed or abolished.
President Theodore Roosevelt summoned college athletics leaders to two White House conferences to encourage reforms. In early December 1905, Chancellor Henry M. MacCracken of New York University convened a meeting of 13 colleges and universities to initiate changes in football playing rules. At a subsequent meeting Dec. 28 in New York City, 62 higher-education institutions became charter members of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS).
The IAAUS officially was constituted March 31, 1906, and took its present name, the NCAA, in 1910. For several years, the NCAA was a discussion group and rules-making body, but in 1921 the first NCAA national championship was conducted: the National Collegiate Track and Field Championships. Gradually, more rules committees were formed and more championships were created, including a basketball championship in 1939.
A series of crises brought the NCAA to a crossroads after World War II. The “Sanity Code” − adopted to establish guidelines for recruiting and financial aid − failed to curb abuses. Postseason football games were multiplying with little control, and member schools were increasingly concerned about how the new medium of television would affect football attendance.
The complexity of those problems and the growth in membership and championships demonstrated the need for full-time professional leadership. Walter Byers, previously a part-time executive assistant, was named executive director in 1951, and a national headquarters was established in Kansas City, Mo., in 1952.
Byers wasted no time placing his stamp on the Association. A program to control live television of football games was approved, the annual Convention delegated enforcement powers to the Association’s Council and legislation was adopted governing postseason bowl games.
As college athletics grew, the scope of the nation’s athletics programs diverged, forcing the NCAA to create a structure that recognized varying levels of emphasis. In 1973, the Association’s membership was divided into three legislative and competitive divisions − I, II and III . Five years later, Division I members voted to create subdivisions I-A and I-AA (renamed the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Football Championship Subdivision in 2007) in football.
The NCAA began administering women’s athletics programs in 1980 when Divisions II and III established 10 championships for 1981-82. A year later, the historic 75th Convention adopted an extensive governance plan to include women’s athletics programs, services and representation. The delegates expanded the women’s championships program with the addition of 19 events, many of them Division I and National Collegiate (all division) championships.
The 1980s were tumultuous. The period was marked by many serious and high-profile cases involving rules violations. Questions about academic standards abounded, and the Association responded in 1983 with the adoption of Convention Proposal No. 48, which strengthened academic requirements for prospective student-athletes. In 1984, the NCAA lost control of regular-season football television rights when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Association in a landmark antitrust case.
As the complexity of the enterprise grew, college and university presidents became more involved in the governance of the Association. In 1984, the NCAA established the Presidents Commission, a group of presidents from the three divisions charged with setting an agenda for the Association.
Byers retired Oct. 1, 1987, after 36 years as the Association’s executive director, having established himself as a visionary who created sophisticated systems governing championships, rules and finances.
Byers was replaced by University of Virginia Athletics Director Richard D. Schultz, who resigned in 1993.
Schulz was succeeded by University of Arizona Athletics Director Cedric Dempsey, who led the Association beginning in 1994. Dempsey oversaw a landmark 1997 restructuring of NCAA governance that provided greater autonomy for each of the divisions and placed institutional presidents in charge of each division and of the Association in general.
Dempsey served as president until December 2002 and was replaced in January 2003 by Myles Brand, president of Indiana University, Bloomington.
Brand, the first university president to serve as the Association’s chief executive, based his administration on the twin pillars of advocacy and reform. Major academic reforms were accomplished in Divisions I and II, and presidential involvement in governance became increasingly effective. Brand also oversaw efforts at fiscal reform and constantly championed the causes of diversity and inclusion.
Brand died Sept. 16, 2009. James L. Isch, formerly an NCAA senior vice president and chief financial officer, served as interim president.
Mark A. Emmert, president at the University of Washington, was named the fifth NCAA president April 27, 2010, and took over duties of the office Oct. 5, 2010. He has stressed presidential leadership and values-based action during his tenure. In August 2011, Emmert convened Division I presidents for a leadership summit that focused on stronger enforcement, rules simplification and benefits for student-athletes, among other things.Last Updated: Aug 13, 2012