Tuesday, July 5, 2011



"Today, the NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neoplantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belongs to the overseers (the administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may receive only those benefits authorized by the overseers. The system is so biased against human nature and simple fairness in light of today's high dollar, commercialized college marketplace that the ever increasing number of primary and secondary NCAA infractions cases of the 1990s emerge in the current environment as mostly an indictment of the system itself."

Walter Byers, Unsportmanlike Conduct, 1995

For many of us who live in the south, terms like "plantation" and "overseer" invoke strong images and thoughts. So, when I read these words (and others I will detail) in Walter Byers book, written in 1995, I immediately took notice.

WHO IS WALTER BYERS? Walter Byers served as executive director of the NCAA from 1951 to 1987. Among other things, he started the NCAA enforcement program, pioneered a national academic rule for athletes and negotiated more than 50 television contracts. I think this qualifies him to opine on the subject of amateurism and compensating players.

As the NCAA entered the 90s, they had just disposed of the Jerry Tarkanian matter. For those of us old enough to remember, Tark the Shark was a successful basketball coach at UNLV. The NCAA went to war with Shark the Tark and the shark bit back. Who won depends on who you ask.

The case had all of the usual story lines. Money, cars, admissions issues, suspect grades, all in the backdrop of sin city. Throw in an upstart program (not Kentucky or UCLA) and you have a made for television movie. If there had only been sports talk radio and the internet back then.

As it always does, the NCAA considered itself victorious. Good had defeated evil. The case would serve notice to potential violators. And, it proved the NCAAs essential point, that being if you allowed money into amateur athletics, the conduct would be worse than what occurred at UNLV.

Against this backdrop, the NCAA dug in on its position on amateurism, emphasized its public relations campaign (that sound familiar--"where does the money go" ads we see on TV now), expanded it's enforcement and compliance departments, and enlarged its bureaucracy.

Was the NCAA right? By 1995, Walter Byers, who some say created the NCAA in its current form, didn't think so.  Fast forward 16 years. Have we finally reached the tipping point?

More coming in Part II

Chris Hellums is the managing shareholder of Pittman Dutton & Hellums. He currently represents former Alabama wide receiver Tyrone Prothro in In Re NCAA Student-Athlete Name and Likeness Licensing Litigation, Case No. 09-cv-1967-CW.