Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Guru Memory on the Passing of Ex-NCAA Executive Titan Walter Byers

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Your Guru had to have an inner smile late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning -- take your pick -- on reading the first reports of the passing former NCAA top executive Walter Byers at age 93, yet marking another person on the wallpaper of the Guru's life who has gone on to another world.

The stories say Byers was a proponent of women's collegiate athletics.

Well, no and yes, in that order.

When the Guru came along in the mid-1970s as part of newspapers beefing up women's coverage in the wake of the rollout of Title IX legislation in Washington, in the battle to establish proportionally equal rights in athletics for women on campus the Guru was made aware to no end that Byers, Texas football coach Darrell Royal and the lot of them were the enemy.

One after another in the hearings in Congress they all paraded to testify how athletics on the men's side would go the way of Pompeii if Title IX became the law of the land.

Of course it became humorous in later years to hear such stories as Royal attending barbeques of the Longhorns women's basketball team as Jody Conradt's Longhorns rose to a national power.

That was the "No" part of the Guru's opening statement above.

But as the eighties dawned, at an NCAA convention -- and remember the NCAA is the membership, though during his rule, make no mistake the NCAA and Byers were one and the same in terms of the power in collegiate athletics -- the association enacted adoption of five women's championships in Division II and III.

That was a response to those schools that asked for it. There was no sense yet that the NCAA might move beyond that small package.

The following summer in 1980 CoSida, which is the organization for collegiate sports information directors, had their convention in Kansas City, then the headquarters locale for the NCAA.

At one of the big luncheons that week early in the convention, Byers was the principle speaker. No one said whether or not it was on the record -- the Guru was one of the few media types around because of his having to harness the power of the SIDs to make his information network work in season.

There was nothing controversial per se. HOWEVER, at one point, Byers, with the new events to happen that ensuing winter, used the phrase --and the Guru remembers this like it was yesterday (yes this would be in the book you all want me to write) -- "And women's championships. We hope you will join with us and support these events AS THEY START COMING DOWN THE LINE -- and volunteer to host them."

Now, the Guru was smart enough to see that news was breaking out.

Exactly what did coming down the line mean. And more important, the perceived enemy of women's athletics and also the most powerful person in the NCAA had just made a remark endorsing them -- and it was perhaps the first time he made such a public endorsement.

Upon conclusion the Guru phoned his bosses back at The Inquirer and informed them of what he just heard.

Abracadbra -- notebook time with the Byers comments being the lead item.

Soon after writing that report, word came that a progressive group of women's athletic directors -- many at today's Power 5 schools -- started conversations about gravitating to the NCAA because they had believed policy of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) had becme restrictive or problematic, especially the transfer rule.

Back in those days transfer students could play right away under AIAW rules and Tennessee became a big beneficiary, to the point some elsewhere complained that the budding legendary women's basketball coach was turning their universities into farm teams.

Events began moving fast after that summer and the NCAA at its momentous convention in Miami in 1981 had two major items on the agenda, establishing governance over women's collegiate sports and creating a whole array of championships across the board, including Division I.

With the AIAW still in business the NCAA was delicate in public, anyhow, as it went about gaining support.

But with the Guru, -- think about approaching coverage of presidential nominating conventions -- actually having a handle on how things might go, he was told "You may be interested that you have made Walter's reading list."

Byers did note that if the initiatives passed, schools could still participate in AIAW events, to which the response was Nada.

Ironically, a similar contrast emerged 15 years later when the WNBA was getting ready to open shop and then-NBA Commissioner David Sterm said players could also participate in the rival American Basketball League championships, to which the response was the same as the AIAW.

At the Miami convention, the Guru was invited to the opening reception party and was introduced to Byers, who said, while shaking hands, "Yeah, Greenberg. I know who you are. I say a couple of words at a convention of college PR people about women's athletics and you turn it into war and peace."

He then grinned and gave a wink.

Once passed, Byers did become an enthusiastic supporter of women's events, appeared annually at the Women's Final Four, and, get this, Ruth Berkey, who became the first NCAA women's administrator, soon also became one of Byers three wives -- the Guru is writing this late at night and couldn't get a quick answer whether she was the second or third.

Byers also became a member of the first and very large class for induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad


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