Walter Byers (March 13, 1922 - May 26, 2015) was the first executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He served from 1951 to 1988. He also helped start the United States Basketball Writers Association in 1956. The NCAA Walter Byers Scholarship is named in his honor.
Byers expanded the NCAA men's basketball tournament in 1951 from 8 to 16 teams, the first step in expanding the tournament to the spectacle it is today. The number of teams fluctuated over the next few decades, but never went below 16 again and eventually expanded further under Byers' leadership. WFAN New York's Mike Francesa referred to him as an "Oz-like" figure who ran the NCAA with ultimate control.
Byers went on to negotiate lucrative TV contracts that preempted individual colleges' rights on the way to building a billion-dollar business, leading to a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that freed the colleges to negotiate on their own. Ever since players have been attempting to win the rights to their names and images, the right to be paid, etc.
In his book Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting College Athletes Byers turned against the NCAA in its current form, saying it established "a nationwide money-laundering scheme." (P. 73). Byers also revealed that the NCAA developed the term "student-athlete" in order to insulate the colleges from having to provide long term disability payments to players injured while playing their sport (and making money for their university and the NCAA). (P. 69).
Byers concludes the book demanding that Congress, "Free the Athletes," and enact a "comprehensive College Athletes' Bill of Rights." (P. 374). He says that "[t]his is not a suggestion for new government controls; on the contrary, it is an argument that the federal government should require deregulation of a monopoly business operated by not-for-profit institutions contracting together to achieve maximum financial returns." Doing so would treat the "twin curses of exploitation and hypocrisy that have bedeviled college athletics in direct proportion to its intensified commercialization," and would prevent colleges from denying players the freedoms available to other students. (P. 375). Finally, he says, "Collegiate amateurism is not a moral issue; it is an economic camouflage for monopoly practice. . . , [one which] 'operat[es] an air-tight racket of supplying cheap athletic labor.'" (Pp. 376, 388). On May 26, 2015, Byers died at the age of 93.