When the NCAA hired Tom Jernstedt in 1972 as a director of events, he joined a small group of administrators trying to manage affairs for a national yet largely under-appreciated organization.
Thirty-eight years later as Jernstedt leaves the Association, there are legions singing his praise.
“Tom’s body of work is breathtaking, and his effect on both the NCAA itself and the thousands of members he has influenced over time is profound,” said NCAA Interim President Jim Isch. “His leadership has been key to the position college sports holds in American culture and the recognition globally of the collegiate model of athletics.”
University of Washington President Mark Emmert, who becomes the Association’s fifth CEO later this fall, acknowledged Jernstedt’s role in elevating all NCAA championships.
“I want to add my thanks and congratulations to Tom for his nearly four decades of service to higher education and intercollegiate athletics,” Emmert said. “Tom’s legacy will be recalled whenever student-athletes have the opportunity to compete in the Association’s 88 championships.”
Jernstedt, who rose to the level of NCAA executive vice president, announced his departure earlier this month.
“It has been a privilege to have served the NCAA member institutions and their student-athletes for almost four decades,” Jernstedt said. “My time with the Association has been so much more than a job; it has been a way of life for me.”
Though Jernstedt wore many hats during his time with the Association, he became synonymous with the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship and the committee responsible for its administration.
He worked with countless committee members and committee chairs who have helped influence the growth of college basketball, including Vic Bubas, Tom Butters, C.M. Newton, Dave Gavitt, Wayne Duke, Bob Bowlsby, Dick Schultz, Cedric Dempsey and Dan Guerrero, among others. Jernstedt oversaw his first Final Four in March 1973 when a Gavitt-coached Providence team was a participant.
Newton, a former coach at Alabama and Vanderbilt and athletics director at Kentucky who now chairs the selection committee for the postseason NIT, told the NCAA’s Champion magazine recently that despite the continual rotation of committee members on one of the NCAA’s most important bodies, the one guiding force for more than three decades was Jernstedt.
“Not only have coaches and administrators alike appreciated Tom’s management of the event itself, they marvel at his ability to guide various iterations of the committee during his 38 years of service,” Newton said.
“There’s been one constant through all of this, from before bracket expansion to the spectacle the tournament has become today. I don’t like to single out individuals, but the one constant that always brings you back to center has been Tom Jernstedt.”
Arnie Ferrin, former Utah star and member of the 1984 committee when expansion to 64 teams was a hot-button agenda item, called Jernstedt “a calming influence” in tumultuous times.
“He really let the committees make their own decisions. He and (former NCAA staff member) Dave Cawood both provided great guidance to all the committees along the way,” said Ferrin.
Newton praised Jernstedt for “his absolute love for the tournament.”
“He was very protective of anything that would potentially compromise the purity of the tournament,” Newton said. “He was a very strong, yet in-the-background kind of voice that would encourage the committee to think things through a little better if he saw things going off course.”
In addition to helping the men’s game, Jernstedt also was influential during the 1970s and 1980s when the NCAA began sponsoring women’s championships. Jernstedt said that the Association’s elevation of women’s sports is something of which he is most proud.
“The Association’s adoption of the governance plan in the early 1980s and the subsequent sponsoring of women’s championships was a historic moment,” said the man who helped foster the transition. “It was an exciting time for women who wanted to compete in the intercollegiate model. Having women’s sports under the NCAA umbrella provided broader visibility for women that had not previously existed. It’s wonderful to see the current high level of play.”
Big Ten Conference Commissioner Jim Delany is among the many who understand the breadth of Jernstedt’s contributions.
“Tom has served the NCAA, its institutions and the basketball community for almost four decades as a passionate and consummate professional,” he said. “We all owe him a huge thank you and best wishes as he takes on the next series of challenges in his life. On a personal level, Tom has been one of my best friends and a trusted advisor for many years, and I will always trust his good judgment and rely on his friendship.”
Rob Mullens, the athletics director at Oregon, where Jernstedt was a football student-athlete in the mid-1960s, said Jernstedt holds a special place among the thousands of Oregon alumni.
“He has demonstrated tremendous leadership in the evolution of the NCAA and has displayed the loyalty and affection for the organization,” Mullens said. “His foresight in regard to such issues as the importance of national television exposure, as well as the incorporation of women’s athletics into the NCAA structure, were clearly ahead of their time. His departure creates a void that will be hard to replace in collegiate athletics.”
Jernstedt was hired in 1972 as director of events for the NCAA but was promoted to assistant executive director just two years later. He held a number of senior-level management positions over the next 29 years, culminating in his appointment in 2003 as executive vice president.
During his tenure, he served as staff liaison to numerous Association committees, including the Television Negotiations Committee, Division I Championships Committee, Executive Committee, General Television Committee, Basketball Officiating Committee, Faculty Athletics Representatives Forum, Council Subcommittee to Review Minority Opportunities in Intercollegiate Athletics, Special Advisory Committee to Review Recommendations Regarding Distribution of Revenues, and the Football Issues Committee.
Jernstedt also served in a series of roles with USA Basketball for the last 30 years, including as president of the national governing body from 2000 to 2005.
In 2009, Jernstedt earned USA Basketball’s Edward S. Steitz Award, which recognizes an individual for outstanding contributions to international basketball. The award is named in memory of Steitz, the longtime director of athletics at Springfield College, who was recognized worldwide as an authority on the rules of basketball.
This November, Jernstedt also will be enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Tom Jernstedt will be missed by all of us who care about collegiate basketball,” said Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. “I have known Tom for 40 years. He is humble man who for nearly four decades has overseen the incredible growth of the men’s basketball championship and Final Four. His devotion to the best interests of men’s basketball and basketball coaches has provided the platform for the game to grow in popularity to be arguably the premier sporting event in the United States.
“As coaches, we are so pleased that the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame announced last February that Tom would be inducted this November into the class of 2010. He is so very deserving of this honor.”
Jim Tooley, CEO and executive director of USA Basketball, said Jernstedt will always be part of the USA Basketball family, too.
“Tom Jernstedt’s involvement with USA Basketball for more than three decades was invaluable,” Tooley said. “He was fully dedicated to the success of USA Basketball and helping improve the game worldwide. USA Basketball owes Tom a debt of gratitude for his time, commitment and support to our programs.”
Jernstedt also served in various roles with the Federation of International Basketball (FIBA). He is vice president of the United States International University Sports Federation and first vice chair of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He also is vice president of NCAA Football and a past member of the board of directors for the United States Olympic Committee.
“Tom has been a tremendous advocate for the promotion of the game of basketball on all levels,” said Jerry Colangelo, chair of USA Basketball. “In his role with USA Basketball as a former president and a member of the board, and in his role with the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, his service as liaison between NCAA basketball and professional basketball is unmatched. He made tremendous contributions in his role and his commitment was extraordinary.”
Jernstedt also is second vice chair and a member of executive committee for the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association board of directors.
“Tom is one of the true giants of the sports industry with a lasting legacy that has helped chart the course that shaped collegiate athletics,” said Susan Williams, president of the Indiana Sports Corporation. “He is a true friend of Indiana, and we wish Tom the best in this new phase of his career.”
Jernstedt was born and raised in the state of Oregon. He received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from Oregon in 1967 and 1973, respectively. After graduation, Jernstedt spent two years in private business and then joined the department of athletics at his alma mater and served in three different administrative positions between 1969 and 1972.