Tub-thumping moralist of the American way? Byers would seem to be a likely recruit, what with his long experience as watchdog of amateurism, his belief in the ultimate purity of intercollegiate athletics and his leadership of the NCAA's aggressive drug-testing program. But that Sunday suit doesn't quite fit him either. Though he and his family used to attend a Protestant church in Kansas City, organized religion is no longer a major part of his life. The only Bible in evidence around Mission Control is Byers' office handbook. There is no Oral Roberts in the man.
No, in the end the Solitary Man has forced us to judge him on his terms. And those terms are: What kind of job did I do? Here is an assessment:
CONTRIBUTIONS TO SPORTS
Byers' salary was last reported (in 1983) as $78,450. In May 1982 contracts were in effect that would have brought him about $200,000 in annuities, pensions and deferred compensation; it's almost certainly a higher figure now. In addition, a noncompetition contract will pay him $10,000 annually one year after retirement as long as he doesn't "perform services for any other athletic organization without the written consent of the NCAA." He's worth every penny.
Byers did for the NCAA what Arnold Palmer did for golf—he made it attractive to the mass market. He had (and still has) uncanny foresight and an unusual comprehension of every side of an issue. Quite early, Byers saw the importance of television for sports and the absolute need to extract a revenue base from the basketball tournament. Consider this from Lopiano, a critic: "The NCAA was nothing until Walter Byers."
INTEGRITY IN OFFICE
In November 1985 The Washington Post disclosed that since 1978 the NCAA had provided more than $600,000 in no-interest mortgage loans to its staff, the largest amount going to Byers through a loan of $118,000. In addition, Byers and Louis J. Spry, the NCAA's controller, received loans at preferential rates from United Missouri Bank of Kansas City, where the NCAA deposits much of its money. The Post reported that the Spry-Byers loans were worth $500,000. Although the loans clearly represent preferential treatment, they are commonplace in corporate America and not illegal. After the article was published, a rankled Byers took issue with some of the Post's figures and pointed out that his loans (with an outstanding balance of about $244,500 at that time) were not personal but were made to the Byers Seven Cross Ranch, Inc.
But are the loans palatable considering the NCAA is a public institution charged with the trust of 991 members? Though the loans were mentioned in footnotes to the NCAA's annual report, they were a mystery to several prominent NCAA officials, among them president John R. Davis and secretary-treasurer Wilford S. Bailey. A man with Byers' insight and business acumen should have avoided even the appearance of irregularity.
Law professor Wright says that the NCAA loans constitute "a perfectly legitimate fringe benefit for keeping upper-level staff people." Part of the NCAA's official rationale for the loans, according to an NCAA Executive Committee document, is that "it would be less expensive to benefit the executive director by such a loan rather than to tender him a corresponding salary increase." But Wright considers the bank loans "the more questionable thing. That doesn't look very good. I'd feel better if Lou and Walter borrowed their money from somewhere the NCAA doesn't keep its money."