Byers believes that modern-day college sports are no longer a student activity: they are a high-dollar commercial enter-prise, and college athletes should have the same access to the free market as their coaches and colleges. He favors no one as he cites individual cases of corruption in NCAA history. From Byers' first enforcement case, against the University of Kentucky in 1952, to the NCAA's 1987 "death penalty" levied against Southern Methodist University of Dallas, he shows the change in the athletic environment from simple rules and personally responsible officials to convoluted, cyclopedic regulations with high-priced legal firms defending college violators against a limited NCAA enforcement system. This book is a must for anyone involved in college sports--athletes, coaches, fans, college faculty, and administrators.
"There has been no other executive in the history of professional, college, or amateur sports who has had such an impact in his area." --Keith Jackson, ABC Sports
"Walter Byers has done more to shape intercollegiate athletics that any single person in history. He brought a combination of leadership, insight, and integrity to intercollegiate athletics that we will never again see equaled." --Bob Knight, Head Basketball Coach, Indiana University
As NCAA executive director, Byers started the an enforcement program, pioneered a national academic rule for athletes, and signed more than fifty television contracts with ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and Turner Broadcasting. He oversaw the growth of the NCAA basketball tournament to one that, in 1988, grossed $68.2 million. As the one person who has been inside college athletics for forty years, Walter Byers is uniquely qualified to tell the story of the NCAA and today's exploitation of college athletes.
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Exploiting College Athletes
By Walter Byers, Charles Hammer
The University of Michigan PressCopyright © 1995 Walter Byers
All rights reserved.
The Business of Our Business
We Were the Police
In the late 1940s, I was one of a small group that patched together the diverse interests of college athletics into a body politic, the modern National Collegiate Athletic Association. I then became the NCAA's first full-time executive director and, until my retirement in 1987, its only one.
I was charged with the dual mission of keeping intercollegiate sports clean while generating millions of dollars each year as income for the colleges. These were compelling and competing tasks, and, in my enthusiasm for sports, I believed it possible to achieve both.
We proved barely adequate in the first instance, but enormously successful in our second mission. Persistent efforts to contain college sports' explosive growth and enforce the rules to which the colleges annually pledge their allegiance brought no reduction in intercollegiate crime through the years. As the rewards for winning multiplied, so did breaking the rules and cheating.
I was 30 years old when the NCAA handed me the job of organizing the first nationwide enforcement program for college athletics. To say we were the police is a large exaggeration. Our task more closely resembled that of study hall monitors maintaining some semblance of order within a rambunctious college family. For most of the 36 years I served in the hot seat of the NCAA executive director's office, I passionately believed NCAA rules could preserve the amateur collegiate spirit I so much loved as a youth and admired as a young sports reporter.
On a hot August day in 1977, in the Hyatt Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee, I found myself, at the age of 55, angrily defending the NCAA enforcement staff's integrity. The NCAA Infractions Committee had cited Coach Jerry Tarkanian and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for rule violations typical of hustling collegiate programs — mainly gifts of money and merchandise to players plus questionable academic standards.
The Knoxville hearing was not Coach Tarkanian's first battle with NCAA enforcement. His earlier performance at California State University, Long Beach, had been cited in a major case. For that reason, in this second round, the Infractions Committee demanded that UNLV suspend Tarkanian from coaching for two years. Jerry Tarkanian, praised for his attack-oriented coaching philosophy, followed that instinct in a high-pressure, full-court attack as he appealed to the NCAA Council in Knoxville. The 18-member council was the NCAA's adjudicating body in these matters.
UNLV's lawyers criticized the NCAA enforcement staff, implying that S. David Berst had conspired with his investigators to concoct phony evidence. The suggested scenario was that six different investigators had interviewed different witnesses and then, ignoring what was said, made up detailed sets of facts, names, and dates, carefully constructing imaginary events to railroad the UNLV coach.
Listening to those distortions, I felt my anger heading out of control. I had hired David as an investigator when he was a young man. At this writing, he is the NCAA enforcement chief, a man more responsible than anyone else for the enforcement department's reputation for integrity.
Disgusted by the UNLV tirade, I protested.
"I know these investigators as decent human beings," I told the council. "This attack on their character is an obvious effort to divert discussion from the violations to personalities. It's not a personality issue."
When the meeting ended, I walked out of the room and met Berst in the hall. We walked a few steps into the elevator. Though I had never personally met Jerry Tarkanian, he stepped into the elevator right behind us.
In public Tark the Shark had blamed a supposed vendetta by David Berst for most of his problems. I was surprised that in private they seemed to get along with ease, somewhat like business associates who have been through a lot together. David introduced us. We all agreed that it had been a long day. Then Jerry turned to me with the air of a sophisticated wheeler-dealer.
"Say, isn't there some way we can work this out?" he asked, in the manner of a friend wanting to do me a favor. His attack squad had just spent hours before the council unjustly condemning the enforcement staff, and now he was ready to make a deal.
"Come on, coach," I said, "after all that?"
Tarkanian's desire to work things out was an early hint of what became the UNLV position: the school itself would accept severe penalties if we would remove the suspension of Tarkanian. The NCAA Council refused.
Technically, we won this battle in 1988 through a Supreme Court decision. But Jerry Tarkanian never stopped coaching until he left UNLV in 1992, after legally whipsawing the NCAA and forcing it to pay about $1 million in legal fees. The clock is still running since he and his wife, Lois, have a pending lawsuit against the NCAA and three current and former employees.
As for Tarkanian's financial fortunes, let's forget about his hefty income from salary, endorsements, and basketball camps. I estimate that solely for his teams' appearances at the NCAA basketball tournament and 1990 Final Four victory, his employment contract with built-in bonuses enabled him to take home more than $500,000 from the NCAA's own coffers.
During the next few moments of that 1977 elevator ride in Knoxville, Coach Tarkanian just stared at me, his face impassive. Not another word was spoken.
The Business of Our Business
In 1982, I was sitting within the bare, painted walls of an Oklahoma City federal courtroom observing the trial of an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA's football television plan.
The lead witness against us was University of Georgia President Fred Davison, also head of the College Football Association (CFA). He and others alleged that the NCAA was a cartel, unjustly limiting the profits of the biggest big-time teams. The plaintiffs wanted to sell their own games to television, cutting smaller NCAA teams out of the deal.
Davison was a big man, ponderous in thought. He seemed comfortable sitting amid the Puritan plainness of that courtroom. He testified he operated a football business that generated more than $5 million a year for a university athletics corporation that carried a $12 million debt. He said he did not want "other people imposing themselves on my business. ... My general feeling is that our people would be better able, taking everything into account, to run our business than would be the NCAA — the business of our business....
"I'm not discrediting the democratic [NCAA] processes. I'm discrediting a process, indeed, that allows a tyranny of the majority to impose itself on the commercial enterprise of a minority group."
Here was a businessman arguing about the corporate balance sheet and the unfairness of government (NCAA) regulations. University of Oklahoma President Bill Banowsky told the federal judge more of the same.
"It is virtually impossible to overstate the degree of our resentment of the controls of the NCAA," Banowsky declared. He asked that OU be free to make its own "market and business judgments."
During a recess moments later, Bill Banowsky walked past me in the courtroom, then swung around and grinned.
"Walter," he said, "I've been reading a book about J. Edgar Hoover. You remind me of him."
I had to laugh. I asked him to send the book to me. He walked away nodding his head and chuckling to himself.
Then I seriously considered the testimony I had heard. It may seem naive, but I was shocked that presidents of two major universities were testifying under oath that "amateur" collegiate sports were dead.
Throughout my career I had fought for the amateur ideal against such big-time coaches as Barry Switzer, Joe Paterno, and Jerry Tarkanian. I supported any rule that sought to keep college athletics more a student activity than a profession. Although we lost one engagement after another, I hoped we could recapture some philosophy of yesteryear. It finally became clear that the new generation of coaches and staff didn't know and didn't care to learn about old ideals.
At the same time, I had joined college leaders in fighting to prevent college sports from paying the taxes levied against entertainment businesses — ticket taxes, sales taxes, and corporate income taxes. To accomplish that, I had testified before Congressional committees that college sports was essentially amateur, oriented to education and not to profit.
Meanwhile, down the years I had negotiated nearly 50 sports television contracts that piled multimillion-dollar deals one on top of another — money that funneled directly to the colleges. The new money was to pay for more sports, more championships, and better support services for athletes. As the rewards multiplied, unanswered contradictions quickly followed.
In 1975, his last year at UCLA, Coach John Wooden's salary was $32,500, the compensation of a coaching legend who took 16 of his teams to the NCAA tournament and won 10 national championships. John signed none of the athletics shoe deals, wherein players are required to wear a certain brand so the coach can collect big bucks for the advertising endorsement.
"I got one shoe contract offer worth somewhat more than my salary," John told me. "I didn't sign because I didn't think that money belonged to me."
John Wooden got no big-money TV contracts. He did receive $50 per home game for radio broadcast commentary.
Compare John with Jim Valvano of North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference some 10 years later. He took seven of his teams to the NCAA tournament and won a single championship. Valvano resigned with North Carolina State involved in multiple NCAA violations.
Valvano reportedly was grossing $850,000 a year from his combined business enterprises (shoe contract included). He left North Carolina State, before making a deal with ABC-TV, on the condition that he would still receive $212,000 (two years' salary) and $250,000 of a $375,000 deal he had with the Wolfpack booster group.
In a decade, the top basketball coaches' earnings jumped more than twentyfold. Today, the financial package for Lute Olson at Arizona nets out at more than a million a year. It reached that level when Arizona persuaded the coach to withdraw from consideration for the Kentucky job at the time the university at Lexington hired Rick Pitino. Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke is in the million per year class with $375,000 from a shoe contract reportedly on top of that.
Players' earnings, however, haven't changed appreciably above the terms set 39 years ago (1956) for the athletics scholarship — tuition, books, room and board, and incidentals.
In the name of amateurism, the NCAA has been stingy with the size of the company logo on a player's uniform, although the player receives no money for it. So Rumeal Robinson would have been ruled ineligible if he had worn a manufacturer's label larger than 1–1/2 inches by 1–1/2 inches on his Michigan jersey.
Yet as Rumeal stepped up to the free throw line in Seattle in 1989 to win the national championship for the Wolverines, he repeatedly twirled the NCAA Rawlings basketball, the trademark and NCAA endorsement clearly visible to the 47 million people who watched the CBS telecast. The size of the label on the NCAA "official basketball" appeared twice, each imprint measuring nine inches wide and two inches high.
In 1990, the three-year Rawlings basketball deal was worth more than $1.1 million to the NCAA, of which 60 percent was allocated to the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments. The NCAA organization's own share was 40 percent. The players' share was zero.
Not that all big-time universities make a profit from collegiate sports. Far from it. Most of the Division I NCAA members run consistent sports deficits, which must be paid off by subsidies from state legislatures, booster donations, or fees levied on all their students. But along the way these colleges continue to pay excellent salaries to various university officials, coaches, and athletics department staff. The upper elite, the richest of Division I, generate big money and pay their managers even more handsomely than the rest.
A highly commercialized outside world thoroughly commercialized college sports — big business at work, as sworn to by Messrs. Davison and Banowsky.
In 1984, obviously out of step with the times and heading for retirement, I estimated during an Associated Press interview that as many as 30 percent of major sports schools were cheating on the rules — 15 percent simply to win, another 15 percent because they felt they must fight fire with fire. Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated noticed the AP story and interviewed me for an SI "Scorecard" feature.
"We're in a situation where we, the colleges, say it's improper for athletes to get, for example, a new car," I told Jack. "Well, is that morally wrong? Or is it wrong because we say it's wrong....
"An alumnus can't send a kid to school to play athletics. But is it wrong for the donor to give the boy the money? It's only the colleges with the rules that say it's wrong. ... The public doesn't think it's so wrong."
McCallum fairly reported what I said and then was asked whether this "radical stuff" had been proposed by a "raving anarchist." "No," he said, "these were the words of Walter Byers, the NCAA's powerful and ordinarily reticent long time executive director and the leading architect of the big time intercollegiate athletics he's now openly criticizing."
"Byers is essentially right in what he says," McCallum concluded.
Those were among the few words of praise for the position I'd taken. Such old friends as Bill Flynn of Boston College, Don Canham of Michigan, and Fred Jacoby of the Southwest Conference thought my advocacy of money to the players surely was a sign of early senility.
I was called on the carpet for my comments at an NCAA Council meeting closed to the media. Between annual conventions, the expanded Council is the chief NCAA legislative and appeals body. The 40-plus members were sitting in a tiered arrangement of three rows. On this occasion, I was seated with two other officers at ground level, looking up at the elected assemblage.
To the displeasure of some council members, I had previously commented that the colleges were confiscating part of the student-athletes' Pell grants (a federal subsidy for economically deprived students) to underwrite collegiate athletics costs. I said the situation could become explosive. I still believe that practice is wrong.
Now the NCAA Council also had my SI interview to consider. Gene Corrigan, then athletics director of Notre Dame, was a College Football Association supporter and yet a friend of 20 years. He was seated in the third and highest row. He inquired about my demand for freer compensation of players.
"Walter, when you gave that interview to Sports Illustrated, did you mean to infer that ..." He paused for a moment. Then he said,
"Well, Walter, why don't you just tell us exactly what you had in mind when you said that?"
I looked at the collection of stern faces staring down at me — not a smile in the crowd. An execution was sure to follow. I suddenly empathized with the college sinners who come before the council to answer for athletics crimes.
"I believe it's time to change what we're doing," I said, trying to fill that solemn silence. "My comments here as well as to SI are destined to begin the process."
My words evoked a negative reaction throughout the power structure of the NCAA. It happened again when I raised questions in March 1985 with the leadership of the NCAA Council and Executive Committee.
I suggested allowing student-athletes to endorse products, with the income going first into a trust fund, then to players when they graduate or completed eligibility. In an unpublicized written memo to the top NCAA management group, I said full-need student-athletes should be given additional financial assistance over the permitted grant-in-aid. The memo said: "I earnestly hope that the membership does not take a righteous stand in favor of old-time amateur principles for the athlete, but modern-day commercial involvement for coaches and institutions, and somehow expect a relatively small NCAA enforcement crew to keep the situation clean." I did not say at the time that student-athletes necessarily deserved higher college pay. I argued that since the colleges were exploiting their talent, the athletes deserved the same access to the free market as the coaches enjoyed.
Excerpted from Unsportsmanlike Conduct by Walter Byers, Charles Hammer. Copyright © 1995 Walter Byers. Excerpted by permission of The University of Michigan Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsContents Introduction 1. The Business of Our Business 2. The Governor and the "Death Penalty" 3. The Birth of Big Time 4. A New NCAA: Enforcement Begins 5. Full Rides in the Name of Amateurism 6. The Explosion of Growth 7. The Tug of War 8. Enforcement under Attack 9. Commercializing Christmas 10. Riots of the Sixties 11. Rules Are Not for Enforcing 12. Beating the System 13. Not Enough Money 14. The Pursuit of Power and Money 15. Enforcing the Antitrust Laws 16. Academic Standards and Athletes 17. Flight from Accountability 18. The Enemy of Reform 19. On the Record Index