Meanwhile, as Byers was pushing intercollegiate sports into the American mainstream, he was also instilling a machinelike efficiency in Kansas City. Around NCAA Central, the trains ran on time. Everyone worked half days on Saturdays. (Even today a skeleton staff comes in on Saturdays.) Byers gave up golf shortly after he got the job, and he didn't expect anyone else to do NCAA business on America's fairways, either. Once, he tried to sell Duke a set of clubs he had received as a gift. "Walter," said Duke, "I'll buy them if you give me some time off to play." Byers turned away and said, "Never mind."
One of his early innovations was a booklet called NCAA Office Policies-and Procedures. Frequently revised, the current edition of Policies runs to more than 100 pages and details exactly what the Solitary Man expects of his employees. And what he expects makes Felix Unger seem a slob by comparison. Some examples:
•"Male administrators are to wear suits or sport coats and slacks, shirts and ties. Women administrators and nonadministrative employees are to wear dresses, suits, skirts or slacks and blouses. All blouses must cover the waistline and below at all times." (Rule 6.1.1 Office Conduct.)
•"All office drapes, including thermal drapes, are to be drawn at the time the occupant leaves his or her office for the day." (9.3.1 under The NCAA Buildings.)
•Smoking is not permitted except in the lunchroom during lunch periods (Byers gave up the habit in 1954). Beverages (coffee, milk, soda, juice, you name it) are not permitted at desks. At one time NCAA employees could take breaks, but Byers cut them out. "I thought it was a good idea, but people abused them," said Marge Fieber, who retired last year after having worked for the executive director as his personal secretary for 8 of her 33 years with the NCAA.
"Look, I operate under the premise that some people work because they enjoy it and some people work only because they have to," said Byers. "So I hope that we hire people who enjoy work and who enjoy doing something constructive. If I hire those kinds of people, they stimulate each other. Now, if you believe that, and I do, then you should give them a good place to work because it facilitates the process."
It also leads to the conclusion among some NCAA critics that a bunch of Stepfordites, Puritans and Byers worshipers are manning Mission Kansas Control. Says Donna Lopiano, the women's athletic director at the University of Texas and the former president of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which operated independent of the NCAA until 1982: "Byers runs the NCAA with stern corporate efficiency. It's motivated by his administrative style, which is sterile. Walter doesn't want human beings who make mistakes. He wants robots."
Yes, there is an unmistakably antiseptic air to the offices in Mission. The Solitary Man hires carefully, and NCAA staff is, for the most part, made up of careful people who do careful things. "I still make notes of all my phone calls," said one former employee. "Walter taught me that." Says Charles Alan Wright, a noted University of Texas law professor who chaired the NCAA's Committee on Infractions from 1978 to '83: "It may be true that the NCAA office is run like a plantation, but if so, the slaves seem happy with their lot."
Byers had a life away from the office—at one point, he admits, he was drinking too much and now limits himself to an occasional beer—but nobody knew much about it.
He and Marilyn were married in September of 1946 and had three children: Ward, now 37; Ellen and Frederick, called Fritz, 31. The kids did well, as Baby Boomers were supposed to do. Today, Ellen, the law professor, is married to an FBI agent; Ward is an employee of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission and the father of two children; and Fritz, a lawyer in Toledo, recently was married. Dad was on the road a lot, but he never brought the NCAA home with him; he was always able to compartmentalize. "The NCAA was not a great part of the children's lives," says Ward.