As the architect of the modern N.C.A.A., [Walter] Byers became stuck in the contradictions that would define intercollegiate athletics. He railed against commercialization even as he encouraged and courted it through the expansion of the basketball tournament.
For three decades, Byers’s N.C.A.A. controlled the lucrative regular-season football television contracts that supported the N.C.A.A. office and nonrevenue sports.
Eight years after he retired, Byers released a bombshell of a book: “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes,” which blasted the N.C.A.A. for failing to address the exploitation of athletes.
He wrote: “I attribute that, quite frankly, to the neo-plantation mentality that exists on the campuses of our country and in the conference offices and in the N.C.A.A. that the rewards belong to the overseers and the supervisors. What trickles down after that can go to the athletes.”
Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, who joined the N.C.A.A. after Byers retired, said Byers became an outcast to the organization.
“I think he was perceived as a traitor by people who didn’t know him and who didn’t take time to think about what he was saying,” Hancock said. “Thoughtful people realized that there was a lot of truth in that book.”
Certainly, the issues Byers laid out continue to stare the N.C.A.A. in the face, even as men’s basketball and football prosper.
Byers was a flawed leader, but he had a clear sense of direction when it came to guiding the N.C.A.A. More than silver-tongued speeches and sleight of hand, the organization Byers shaped is in need of a new vision.
William C. Rhoden, “The Vision of a Flawed Leader Still Shapes the N.C.A.A.”, The New York Times (31 May 2015), SP4.