Walter Byers, who served as the first executive director of the NCAA and later became an advocate for the rights of student-athletes, died Tuesday. He was 93.
Jim O'Connell of the Associated Press reports Byers had an infection that spread to his bloodstream. Byers played a major role in the growth of college athletics after taking the position of executive director in 1951. He also helped schools corral the revenue associated with sports.
O'Connell's report included comments from Tom Jernstedt, who worked for the NCAA across four decades. He praised Byers for his impact on the growth of collegiate sports.
"He was remarkable. Brilliant," Jernstedt said. "A very creative individual but very strong and demanding, but his employees all had the utmost respect for him because of his work ethic and leadership values."
Jernstedt also feels Byers deserved more credit for molding the NCAA basketball tournament into the attraction it has become today.
After his retirement, Byers turned his attention to the players. The AP report notes he argued for a student-athlete Bill of Rights and wrote in his book, Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes, about problems in the system:
Against such an array of power stands the young athlete, unorganized and a part of the system for only four to six years before he or she moves on to be replaced by another 18- or 19-year-old. Whereas the NCAA defends its policies in the name of amateurism and level playing fields, they actually are a device to divert the money elsewhere.
An athlete's role and the type of compensation he should receive has become a hot-button topic in recent years, but Byers kick-started the conversation nearly two decades ago.
He was crucial in creating the powerhouse that is the modern NCAA system. Yet in his later years, he wasn't afraid to speak out about its weaknesses in regard to the players as the revenue streams grew for certain sports.