How Two Enemies Shaped the Future of College Sports

Jerry Tarkanian. Image via ronsports

Byers, who became the executive director of the N.C.A.A. in 1951 — a position he held for the next 37 years — transformed a toothless association into a powerful force that mirrored his own personality: secretive, despotic, stubborn and ruthless. He helped turn the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament into the financial windfall we now know as March Madness. He created the N.C.A.A.’s enforcement division, along with a culture that enforced its myriad rules (many of them absurdly petty) with a Javert-like zealotry. He even invented the phrase “student-athlete,” a propaganda stroke that helped universities avoid paying workers’ compensation to injured athletes.

In the New York Times, Joe Nocera looks back at the battle between college basketball coaching great Jerry Tarkanian and former NCAA executive director Walter Byers, who both died in 2015.

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