On another front, there are university coaches and administrators who swear that Byers has it in for them, that he uses the power of his office through the NCAA's investigative and enforcement divisions to settle personal vendettas. Certainly, that would constitute a breach of integrity. But unless there's a John Dean out there in Mission, this charge can never be proved. In fact, Byers' associates, past and present, mention his integrity and dispassion above any other qualities. "It was not a game to see how many notches he could put in his belt," said Warren Brown, the NCAA's first full-time investigator, who worked under Byers from 1966 to '77. "I never heard from any council member that he tried to lobby or influence a penalty or finding." One individual with close ties to NCAA investigations recalled that on one occasion Byers felt that a penalty given to Oklahoma was too light. But the executive director didn't attempt to change it.
Brown had this to say about his ex-boss: "You had respect for the man because he wasn't trying to gain anything personally." That's true. It gets back to the essence of Byers: He was never trying to be anything except the executive director of the NCAA, so his decisions, at least in that context, have to be respected. Even with the loans and the isolated charges of vendetta by certain schools, Byers deserves a high mark for integrity.
USE OF POWER
Byers takes disingenuousness to dizzying heights when he claims, as he frequently does, that he is a man with little power. "It doesn't matter what I think," Byers once said. "We're here to try and facilitate what the members want to get done in intercollegiate athletics." On other occasions he has advanced the idea that he is somewhat of a marionette, moving only when the member institutions pull his strings. Hogwash. Simply the duration of his reign—4 years longer than Clarence Campbell ran the NHL, 11 years longer than Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis ran major league baseball, 15 years longer than Avery Brundage ran the IOC, 18 years longer than Maurice Podoloff ran the NBA—has given Byers great power. And if he doesn't want to call it power, if he wants to hide his whip behind the bylaws of the NCAA, then call it influence. It comes down to the same thing. "It's hard to know what changes are attributable to Byers," says Wright. "His influence is often hidden."
Certainly it's safe to say that Byers has been able to control the important NCAA Council for most, if not all, of the time. And the Council is the major decision-making body within the NCAA. Half of its 44 members are appointed by the various conferences and half are elected from an NCAA-backed slate of delegates. Not too much room for error there. "The NCAA in Mission is a strong central organization that has control over its members," says Illinois athletic director Neale Stoner. "If you think the members put together the legislation, you're crazy." It would be going too far to say that Byers has a wire into every council member. But by and large they are "his people." And they are everywhere, not just in Mission. For example, the presence of Duke in the Big Ten and Tom Hansen, his counterpart in the Pac-10, who worked under Byers for 15 years, cannot be overlooked. They head the two major conferences that did not break off from the NCAA to join the rival College Football Association. Their allegiance to Byers may be entirely proper and understandable. But Byers cannot pretend that a useful old-boy network does not exist.
In that context, then, he must be held responsible for some of the excesses of the NCAA. Byers is a stubborn man and seemingly unable to sympathize with schools embroiled in NCAA investigations. It is one thing to adopt that position as sheriff in Dodge City, Kans., quite another to hold it as NCAA executive director in Mission, Kans.
In his 1984 findings in the Tarkanian-NCAA trial, Judge Paul Goldman wrote, "In short, the NCAA now seems to say: 'If you want to play ball, you must join us, obey our rules and surrender any [Goldman's emphasis] claim you may have under the Bill of Rights.' This Court disagrees with that attitude, as any fair-minded person must." In another section, concerning the methods of some NCAA enforcement personnel, the judge wrote, "These NCAA practices might be considered 'efficient,' but so was Adolf Eichmann and so is the Ayatollah." And, in 1978, a 17-member U.S. House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations was also highly critical of the NCAA's investigative and enforcement tactics, particularly as they pertained to due process.
True, the congressional hearings were largely the result of stumping by Nevada Congressman Jim (the Great) Santini, a close friend of Tarkanian's. But Santini doesn't speak for Judge Goldman, nor did he speak for the other congressmen on the committee who rendered the majority opinion against the NCAA.
More important, several universities—and not just the oft-penalized ones like SMU—have complained about the cloud that falls over their institution when the NCAA swoops in to investigate. Educators like C. Peter Magrath (formerly president of the University of Minnesota, now president of the University of Missouri), John A. Fuzak (retired associate dean of the College of Education at Michigan State and a former president of the NCAA council) and Thomas Day (president of San Diego State University) have harshly criticized the NCAA's heavy-handed investigative and enforcement procedures.