"I have complaints with the process, not with the people," D'Alemberte says carefully of the NCAA. "I think the office staff are people of goodwill and competent." However, he continues, "I thought there were some terrible due-process violations. Allowing witnesses to give unsworn statements without cross-examination is a very bad practice. And I thought some evil got done: Some very good people here were really slandered by a bad person, an outside witness." One of D'Alemberte's chief complaints is about the epic length of the investigation. A speedy trial is promised to U.S. citizens but not to citizens of the NCAA.
"The proof required is not 'beyond a shadow of a doubt,' " Berst says. "There's another term, preponderance of evidence. Our Committee on Infractions operates on the kind of information upon which reasonably prudent persons would rely in the conduct of serious affairs."
This is the way he speaks. He is a reasonably prudent person, conducting serious affairs. "I'm an introvert, and I won't tell you much about myself," says Berst. He is surprised that strangers recognize his name, though it is in one newspaper or another nearly every day. As for magazines, the man is virtually featureproof. This very publication has attempted more than once to profile him, without success. "You end up not running the story because you talk to me and find that there's nothing but what you see here," he says. "And that's not very exciting. People must think that I have a trophy room at home, and I don't."
No, the mounted head of Tarkanian does not leer from a paneled wall in Berst's rec room. Still, Berst's job has colored his perception of sports. He was the baseball coach at his alma mater, MacMurray College, in Jacksonville, Ill., when he was hired by the NCAA a quarter century ago. Nowadays, "I can almost always watch a contest for what it is and not evaluate what's going on in either program," he says. But when he fills out his basketball brackets each March with his family—the NCAA has an office pool, like every other office in America—he ends up "knocking a couple of institutions out based on [rules violations]. That's why I usually lose."
Beyond that, he doesn't pay much attention to games. "I'm not a sports fan," Berst says. It is a Friday morning, and everyone in Kansas City is talking about the Chiefs game to be played on Monday night. Will Berst watch it? "Depends how good Murphy Brown is," he says.
Still, he cops to some human foibles. "Frankly," he says, "if you're just a human being trying to do this kind of work, you'd much rather find something about Notre Dame than you would about MacMurray."
What is the famous line—the NCAA is so mad at Notre Dame that it's investigating Oklahoma? Berst corrects you. "That was Tark's line," he says. "And it was, 'The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, they're gonna give Cleveland State two more years' probation.' Great line." His dyspeptic smile will have to pass for a belly laugh.
Told again that his job sounds lonely, Berst says it is quite the opposite. "I would dearly love to be the Maytag repairman I grew up watching on TV," he says. "But I don't see that coming anytime soon."
Once created, ridiculed, regretted and regrettably enforced, the rules come to rest in Steve Mallonee's brain. It is a strange and fascinating instrument, capable of magnificent parlor tricks. Mallonee can hear a song on the radio and immediately identify its chart date. At the NCAA he has developed photographic recall of all the main bylaws and most of the 4,000 precedent-setting rule interpretations stored redundantly in NCAA computers. "I'm not Jerry Lucas," he says. "I can't recite the New York phone book backward." But coaches and athletic directors use him as a human index to the manual, an incarnate Cliffs Notes.
"It can work one of two ways," Mallonee says of his perverse gift. "If somebody calls and says, 'I have a young man who wants to transfer in baseball and use the one-time transfer exception,' I say, 'That's 18.104.22.168.' I know that. It could work the other way, where someone says, 'I'm looking at Bylaw 22.214.171.124,' and I say, 'So you must be dealing with a student-athlete involved in promotional activities.' "