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John Underwood
February 27, 1978
For years the NCAA, like the FBI, was immune from attack, but it now is facing a congressional investigation. A probing preview of the surprising charges and countercharges to be given an airing
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February 27, 1978

The Ncaa Goes On The Defense

For years the NCAA, like the FBI, was immune from attack, but it now is facing a congressional investigation. A probing preview of the surprising charges and countercharges to be given an airing

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The first time Brent Clark remembers encountering Walter Byers was in the halls of the National Collegiate Athletic Association offices in Shawnee Mission, Kans. By Clark's definition, Byers is a remote, almost phantom figure there, scurrying up stairways to avoid elevators and seeing almost no one while exercising his immense authority as executive director of the NCAA and its 853 member institutions. Clark was fresh out of law school, a new member of the NCAA investigative staff. He said he introduced himself to Byers. "I said, ' Mr. Byers, I'm Brent Clark.' Byers looked at me and said, 'I know who you are.' That's all he said."

That was 2� years ago. It is possible that Clark will encounter Byers again this week, or maybe next, in the halls of Congress during the long-awaited hearings into questionable aspects of the NCAA's operations by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and that Byers will have much more to say. He knows Clark pretty well. Perhaps better than Clark realizes.

Representative James Santini (D., Nev.), who instigated the hearings, calls Clark "the breakthrough" witness. Prize defector Clark, a full-time employee of the subcommittee since Feb. 1, reportedly will lend the proceedings what one member of the staff calls "an expertise."

Clark, it has been learned from congressional sources, has passed on to his new employers an elaborate scenario of an NCAA enforcement/penalty system corrupted by "vendettas" against schools and coaches. He has described a monolith that runs roughshod over due process and "preys on the weak and vulnerable," one that follows guidelines so vague, against a membership so untrained to combat it, that anybody could be caught sinning. "Give me six weeks," Clark maintained, "and I can put any school in the country on probation."

But "anybody" is not caught, Clark has said. Only the hapless. He has spoken of a "selective enforcement" policy where "sacred cows" (i.e., big-time football and basketball powers whose television presence enriches the NCAA's treasury) were allowed to graze contentedly outside the rules while others were intimidated within them. Fear and retribution, said Clark, are "very real" in the NCAA. Decisions—whom to grab, whom to grant untouchable status—came from "on high," Clark has told investigators for the subcommittee, which is chaired by Representative John Moss (D., Calif.).

And who was on high? Walter Byers. It was on Byers whom Clark came down hardest. He pictured the NCAA as no more than an extension of its executive director's whims and prejudices. He said he did not think Byers an "evil" man, but that the NCAA was "an example of [an] organization that has come under the influence of one man, and the resultant tyranny that can grow out of [such a situation]." The NCAA, Clark said, was Byers' "alter ego."

The subcommittee, however, hasn't built its case solely on Brent Clark's accusations, and sources close to the investigation maintain that a productive set of hearings concerning NCAA misdeeds would have resulted without Clark's input.

Meanwhile, a different picture has emerged—this one of Clark himself—and if nothing else it reveals how ill defined a crusader can be. Last March Clark sought advice from the outside about writing an expose of the NCAA ("Maybe serious, maybe humorous," he said. "There are a lot of funny things that happen"). He said, "I don't need the money, I don't have to work, actually. I just always wanted to write."

A month later he wanted the job as the head of the NCAA's enforcement department. When Warren Brown resigned from that position, Clark asked Byers to consider him. He was discouraged, both by Brown and Byers; they said others were more qualified. Clark was 28, and one of the youngest men on the enforcement staff.

There is evidence, too, that Clark has political ambitions. The term "He has Potomac fever" has been used to describe him in Oklahoma, his native state. He is quoted by a former colleague and friend in Kansas City: "In 10 years I'll be governor of Oklahoma." Clark has admitted as well that the NCAA might use his more than casual concern for the Oklahoma football team to discredit him. Though by his definition Oklahoma would seem to deserve sacred-cow status, being one of the biggest of the moneymaking bigs, it had been severely penalized by the NCAA for cheating during Clark's days as a law student. He said an Oklahoma football coach told him when he took the job in Shawnee Mission, "You've seen the good side of sport—now you're going to see the other side."

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