The NCAA, seeking a replacement for the only executive director it has ever had, has fashioned a final four more important than any group of basketball teams the organization could muster.
The NCAA has pared a field of 80 nominees to four men, one of whom will be given the chance to take over the office of 65-year-old Walter Byers, who is retiring after serving as executive director since Oct. 1, 1958. Byers' successor is to be announced this month.
The four men being considered for the NCAA's top position are John R. Davis, associate director of athletics at Oregon State; John W. Ryan, president at Indiana University; Harvey W. Schiller, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, and Richard D. Schultz, director of athletics at the University of Virginia.
All have extensive NCAA connections, which is not surprising considering the organization is as guilty of inbreeding as European royalty.
Davis, 59, is the immediate past president of the NCAA. Ryan, 58, was the first chairman of the President's Commission, currently the most powerful group in the NCAA. Schiller, 47, is a member of the NCAA Executive Committee (which does the formal hiring of the executive director). Schultz, 58, is the chairman of the Division I men's basketball committee and helped the NCAA negotiate the lucrative extension of its television contract with CBS Sports.
One of them will follow a legend. Byers is credited with making the NCAA into the success it is today--a conglomerate of nearly 900 schools that sets the rules and standards for collegiate sports competition. Even its detractors--who are legion--say that while they may not like the NCAA, college sports need such an organization.
"Identifying a good person to succeed a living legend is hard," said NCAA President Wilford Bailey, who led the search committee. "It was hard, for example, for someone to follow successfully Bear Bryant (as Alabama football coach).
"We're talking about people who have been in place 20 years--or in this case 36 years--and who have molded institutions or organizations to a considerable extent by their own strength and vision and wisdom. That's what Byers has done for the NCAA."
Each of the finalists has undergone interviews with the President's Commission, the NCAA Council, the Executive Committee and seven department heads at the NCAA. Reports from those interviews were given to the Executive Committee, which will formally offer a contract.
Ryan and Schiller are considered the frontrunners for the job with Davis close behind and Schultz lagging.
Schiller, a former faculty representative at the Air Force Academy, threatened to pull the SEC from the College Football Assn., a group continually at odds with the NCAA, because the league was unhappy with some conditions of the football television pact. He resigned his Air Force commission--he had been an officer for 24 years--to move to the SEC.
Ryan's big plus is the fact that he is the president at a university, and the President's Commission is known to have a final say in the hiring of the executive director. A negative for Ryan, however, is his inability to control the antics of Indiana basketball Coach Bob Knight.
Davis, as immediate past president of the NCAA, is well known to the people who do the hiring and has 18 years of experience in the administration of intercollegiate athletics. He has expressed great concern about the cost of collegiate atheltics, a pet peeve of the President's Commission.
Schultz, the only finalist without a Ph.D. has his experience mainly as a coach. His stock with the NCAA went up considerably following negotiations with CBS that led to a $159 million, 3-year contract for the television rights to the Division 1 basketball tournament.