SI Vault
 
IN THE KINGDOM OF THE SOLITARY MAN
Jack McCallum
October 06, 1986
Reticent, reclusive Walter Byers, the executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, will retire in 1988. But as Byers begins to relinquish his 35-year-long grip on the NCAA, his throne is beset by problems and critics
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 06, 1986

In The Kingdom Of The Solitary Man

Reticent, reclusive Walter Byers, the executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, will retire in 1988. But as Byers begins to relinquish his 35-year-long grip on the NCAA, his throne is beset by problems and critics

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

How does Byers respond? "I don't think the 'cloud factor' is a factor at all," he says. "I dismiss that, along with what I call the 'coaches' piety p.r.' And that is, 'Oh, the rulebook is so complicated that I just can't understand the rules.' " Eight years ago, Byers told the congressional subcommittee, "I think all the criticisms are surface and have no substance to them."

There you are. With swift and sure strokes Byers gives the back of his hand to legitimate concerns of at least a part of his constituency. He does not like to mention the fact that, yes, the NCAA was forced to change some of its procedures after the congressional investigation.

True, there are schools that deliberately cheat, but there are also schools that have been victimized by the ambiguities and the trivial nature of some of the NCAA rules. And there have been coaches who were honestly tripped up by their own good intentions. "There should be more understanding by the NCAA that coaches are vulnerable to the player because they've developed empathy," said James Zumberge, president of USC. "The coaches have seen where some of these kids come from."

But Byers doesn't want to hear about empathy and shades of gray; he deals in black and white. To a certain extent, the Solitary Man has stood behind a bully pulpit located in an ivory tower.

Grade: B-minus.

ACCESSIBILITY

The NCAA has frequently fought legal battles against the release of its internal documents. It says "no comment" so often that the phrase should be engraved on the front of Mission Control Kansas. The organization doesn't respond well to criticism. It doesn't like mavericks.

Byers is the reason for all this.

He doesn't always win, either. This past summer a federal district judge in Austin ruled that the NCAA must turn over to the court documents from its investigations of SMU's football program; the documents had been sought by two Dallas newspapers and WFAA-TV in Dallas. NCAA lawyers have already made it clear that they will exhaust every appeal before yielding any of the material. "I hope you have a historian on your staff," a lawyer for the Southwest Conference said to the plaintiffs' attorneys.

But it's not just the press that gets the cold shoulder. Byers has an obligation to be more out-front with his constituency, too. He may be genuinely shy, but the Solitary Man carries it to extremes, to the point of weakness.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9