He's Opening NCAA's Door : Schultz Closes Gap Between Members and Organization

Times Staff Writer

Richard Schultz, a former coach and athletic director who holds a commercial pilot's license, has manned the controls for 1 1/2 years as executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.

His mission is to make sure that the NCAA flies right.

He has attempted to do so with an open-door policy that is in direct contrast to that of his predecessor, Walter Byers. Until Schultz took over on Sept. 1, 1987, Byers had been the NCAA's only executive director since the position was established in 1951.

Under the reclusive Byers, a faceless figure who was heard but seldom seen, the NCAA was often portrayed as a mysterious, unbending organization that confused the public and created animosity between the office and its members.

The engaging Schultz, 59, has moved to demystify the NCAA by maintaining a more public profile and by making himself available to the members and to reporters.

Last year, Schultz said, he spent 163 days on the road, 59 of them on college campuses.

Said Dave Cawood, an assistant executive director for the NCAA: "Walter was an outstanding administrator, but it was not his personality to be visible, be out front or to spend a lot of time away from the office. Dick's personality meshes with what was needed at the time he took the job.

"He's been totally encouraged by his predecessor, by the staff and by his superiors to do what he's doing. And I think it's been proven in the last year that the executive director needed to be more visible."

Schultz's personality has won new friends for the NCAA.

"I've never felt that I ever had a voice within the NCAA," Dale Brown, Louisiana State's basketball coach and a longtime critic of the organization, told the New York Times. "That's why I chose the public platform, because I felt that I wasn't one of the boys.

"Now with Dick Schultz, I feel totally different. I think he just knows what's going on. I would like to see a new organization formed, and I would like to see Dick Schultz be the head of it."

Schultz believes that coaches and athletic directors have been quick to accept him because he is one of them.

Unlike Byers, whose background was in sports journalism and whose outlook was said to be more idealistic than realistic, Schultz brought experience at all levels of college athletics.

Born in Kellogg, Iowa, a town of about 1,000 between Des Moines and Iowa City, he played basketball and baseball in high school, earning an athletic scholarship to Central College in Pella, Iowa, where he earned 10 varsity letters.

He was married while in college, and he and his wife, Jackie, have raised two sons and a daughter in almost 40 years of marriage.

Until they moved to Kansas City, Mo., for the start of Dick Schultz's 5-year tenure as executive director of the NCAA, the couple had designed and built their last six houses, with Dick doing the building either by hand or as general contractor.

Also, Schultz supplemented his income as a corporate pilot.

But, first and foremost, he was a basketball and baseball coach, beginning his career at a high school in Humboldt, Iowa, where he spent 10 years. In 1960, he took a job as assistant baseball coach and freshman basketball coach at the University of Iowa and later served 8 years as head baseball coach and 4 years as head basketball coach.

After giving up coaching in 1974, Schultz spent 2 years as an assistant to the university president before moving to Cornell University as athletic director. At Cornell, and later at Virginia, he spent 11 years as an athletic director and also served as chairman of the NCAA basketball committee, negotiating the most recent contract with CBS, which reportedly is worth about $150 million to the NCAA.

He left behind a good life at Virginia, where his home had a majestic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and his perks reportedly included membership in a country club, use of a university-owned plane and a $360,000 annuity that would have matured next year.

And, in signing on with the NCAA, he accepted what basically is a thankless job.

Violations among member schools continue to tarnish the image of the organization, which in the last 6 months has put 7 schools on probation. Sanctions against the Kentucky basketball program have yet to be announced.

However, Schultz believed that he was somehow obligated to serve the NCAA in the interest of returning integrity to intercollegiate athletics.

Last week, on the eve of the NCAA convention in San Francisco, he discussed a variety of topics, including the changing role of his job, NCAA enforcement policy, integrity in college athletics and cases involving the Kansas basketball program and Oklahoma State football player Hart Lee Dykes.

Question: You seemed to have it pretty good at Virginia. What prompted you to take this job?

Answer: That's an interesting question. I had absolutely no interest in this job whatsoever. I liked Virginia. I thought I'd be there the rest of my life. I enjoyed being involved with the NCAA basketball committee.

I was really caught off guard when the search committee contacted me in the first place and said I'd been recommended. I think it was late October, and it was not until January that I finally told them I would go the first step, but that I wouldn't be available until after the Final Four (in April). I had to give it a lot of thought.

I wanted to be sure that if I were the executive director, I would be in a position to make some positive contributions to intercollegiate athletics, so I talked to a lot of colleagues and a lot of people involved in the NCAA. They assured me that would happen and that I really ought to be interested in it.

As the process went on, I had so many people say to me, 'You know, we really need somebody who has a strong sports background. You just have to do this.' So it kind of got to the point where I felt I had to do it, but I might not enjoy it.

I have to say that I've enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It's like any job--it has its good days and its bad days. But, so far, it's had more good days.

Q: What is your perception of the role of executive director?

A: The NCAA is an association, so I'm not a commissioner. I'm not like a Ueberroth or a Rozelle. A commissioner has the power to make penalties, make rulings on specific things. As the chief operating officer of the association, I don't have that authority.

I think my responsibility, first of all, is to oversee the national office, which is a good-sized group of people, and make sure that the business of the association is carried out the way the members want it to be carried out. The NCAA's primary function is to be the governing organization for the member schools, but we're also a service organization. We do a lot of things other than interpret the rules.

Q: How have you changed the role of executive director?

A: I think it's changed the way the members have wanted it to change. In the search process, it became very evident that they wanted an executive director who would be more visible to the membership.

I spent 37 or 38 years as a coach and as an athletic director, so I feel comfortable with that group of people. This is why I've tried to be open. I think the major changes you've seen have been in the availability of the executive director and the attempts to make the organization more open--take it out of the closet, so to speak.

People don't really understand the NCAA, or how it works. They view the NCAA as this bureaucratic organization in Mission, Kan., that makes all these controversial rules and puts your school on probation, and nothing could be further from the truth.

We don't make rules and we can't change rules. Every rule that we have is something that six institutions have proposed and the convention has voted upon.

So we've tried to take some time to explain that. The NCAA is the member institutions. It's not Dick Schultz. And we're trying to get people to understand that.

I think the responsibility of the executive director is to provide leadership to the members, to take a look at the problems they have, help them solve those problems, present new ideas for doing things better. And then, of course, they have to react. So it's a leadership role, a management role, a public-relations role.

Q: What further changes would you like to make?

A: We need more flexibility in the way we administer our rules, especially as they deal with the student-athletes. I think too many times, because of the size of the organization, we pass a rule and we pass it in such a way that it covers a broad area, but there are individuals that fall through the cracks.

I've always felt that, if things were 50-50, the benefit ought to go to the athlete. So we're trying to promote more flexibility in the rules that apply to the athlete--but, at the same time, be very firm with the rules that involve recruiting and be very firm with people who willfully violate those rules to gain a competitive advantage.

Q: There seems to be a stepped-up vigilance toward some of the bigger-name schools. Is that reflective of your thinking?

A: What that's reflective of, I think, is a commitment to make sure our enforcement staff is up to its full complement, and that we are doing things to make sure that we keep good, qualified people in those positions.

One of the problems has been the high turnover rate of our enforcement staff. Most of our enforcement people--not all, but most of them--have law degrees, and they get a year or two training with us and they become very attractive either for universities to hire as compliance people, or to law firms that want to specialize in sports law.

So we need to be competitive in our ability to keep those people. We have done that, and for the first time in a long, long time, we have a full complement of people. And now we've gotten rid of a big backlog of cases that had been there for 2 or 3 years.

Q: Cases tended to drag on?

A: For a lot of different reasons, one of the reasons being that the enforcement staff is not a police department. They don't have police authority. They can't subpoena records, so it becomes a very laborious process to run people down and to be able to have access to people to interview.

The enforcement process, if it works properly, is a cooperative effort between the institution and the enforcement staff. Occasionally, institutions don't cooperate, and that slows the process. And even changeovers at the institutions will slow down the process.

But in meeting with the enforcement staff a few weeks ago, I told them that our goal, now that we were caught up and had a full complement of people, had to be to deal with these cases within 1 year. That's not going to be easy, simply because of the way the process works, but if we don't make that a goal, we'll never come close to it.

I think it's obvious from what's happened that there aren't any sacred cows out there. One of the complaints throughout the years has been (about) selective enforcement. I personally don't think that's happened, but that's been the perception. There isn't anybody that can say that now--not with some of the penalties that have been handed down lately, and to whom.

I think a point needs to be made--and it's very important, because all these cases that have come to a head in the last 30 days give the impression that there's a myriad of problems out there and everybody's cheating--that's really not what's going on.

You're seeing us get caught up. Our enforcement people feel this way. I talked to coaches and athletic directors; they feel the same way. They think we're really over the hump on the integrity thing and the enforcement issue. Violations are way down. And now that we've got these cases cleaned up--other than the Kentucky case--you're not going to see a lot of those kinds of cases.

Q: Do you really believe that? Why would that be?

A: A lot of reasons. I think the convention in 1985 that dealt strictly with integrity put more teeth into the penalties--the death penalty at SMU was a great attention-getter; efforts that I've made; efforts that the membership have made to put integrity back into intercollegiate athletics; the establishment of a compliance department, the conference grants that we're awarding to help conferences set up compliance programs.

We've just got a better system of checks and balances. But, most importantly, we have tremendous interest on the part of presidents and athletic directors and coaches to, quote, clean up the act.

Q: What are your personal views on cheating?

A: I don't subscribe to the fact that everybody's doing it. You have to remember that, in intercollegiate athletics, we have some problems, but we don't have any problems that are unique to athletics.

A lot of people want to say that drugs are unique to athletics or that cheating is unique to athletics. Every problem that we have is societal. You can look at society and you can see the same things. In fact, we have probably done a heck of a lot better job in solving our drug problem than society has. We've probably done a lot better job of solving most of our problems than society has.

I'm not going to say that we don't have problems--we do have--but about 97% of everything that's going on today in intercollegiate athletics is very good and very positive.

But because of the tremendous visibility of athletics, a prominent school goes on probation and the impression is, everybody's doing it and it's widespread. Or if we have one athlete that tests positive for drugs--even though maybe we tested thousands and that the rate is like 1 1/2%, which is unbelievably low in today's society--people will get the impression that everybody's doing it.

That's just not the case.

I feel very good about what's going on out there, but at the same time I know that, just like society, we're going to have people who feel pressure, and because of that pressure, they're going to step across the line because they think they have to.

We can't be so naive to think that's not going to happen. But the important thing is to be sure that we're doing the best job we can to control it and that we've got it at a very low level. And I think we're approaching that.

Q: It was recently reported that Hart Lee Dykes, a football player at Oklahoma State, was given immunity by the NCAA for testimony that led to sanctions against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A & M and Illinois. Do you approve of giving immunity?

A: It isn't any different than plea-bargaining, which you see go on all the time. It depends on the circumstances and the situation.

It's not unusual for our investigators to tell student-athletes that if they don't cooperate and we find that they're in violation, they could be declared ineligible. So, by the same token, if you get the right cooperation, then perhaps there should be some type of immunity.

I think there are probably degrees in that, just like there are degrees in plea-bargaining. But that isn't anything new. That's been going on for a long time.

Q: Last November, the Kansas basketball program was put on a 3-year probation for violations involving a player who never attended the university and a coach who is no longer there. Is penalization of schools more of a priority than penalization of individuals?

A: Intercollegiate athletics work on the premise of institutional control. The institution has to be in control of the program. Every year, the president or chief executive officer has to sign off, as do all the coaches, that their programs are in compliance and that they haven't violated any rules.

Now, if you strictly limited the enforcement process to individuals--you can play this out in your own mind--and individuals could be penalized while the institution went scot-free, think of the temptation to take people and make them scapegoats for the penalties so that the institution could go off and play in the bowl game.

The institution itself cannot escape the responsibility for its program, and if the people who caused the problems are gone, somebody has to be responsible. You can't let them walk away from their lack of control because some people aren't there anymore.

Q: What have you learned from visiting college campuses?

A: The idea of visiting the schools was, of course, to follow through on the promise that I would be more visible and that I would be available. Also, it gave me an opportunity to get started on one of the major challenges that had to be dealt with, and that was the integrity issue.

One of the problems we had over the years is that we tried to legislate integrity, and we ended up with a very complicated rule book that no one understood. My personal feeling was that we could pass a lot more rules and we could double or triple the size of our enforcement staff, but we still would not have integrity.

Solving the integrity problem is very simple: If we can get each institution to have complete integrity in their programs, we could solve the problem.

So, part of the reason for getting out on college campuses is to spend time with chief executive directors, faculty reps and athletic directors, and try to emphasize how I see this process working.

The governing board has the responsibility for the integrity of everything that goes on at the university. They have to make sure they make the unpopular decisions, even if they involve a popular program or a popular individual.

They can't waffle to alumni or booster pressure. They've got to stand firm and say, "This is what we believe in. This is the way it's got to work."

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