By Gary Brown
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tom Jernstedt, who helped build the NCAA’s 88 championships – particularly the Men’s Final Four – into the spectacular student-athlete experiences they are today, was enshrined into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday during ceremonies at the College Basketball Experience and the historic Midland Theater.
Jernstedt, who left the NCAA in August after a 38-year career as an influential administrator and executive, is best known for his role in growing the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship from a 25-team tournament to the 68-team frenzy that has earned the nickname March Madness and generated billions of dollars in broadcast rights.
“I’ve been very lucky and have been in the right place at the right time, which is what a lot of life is about,” Jernstedt said.
“The one constant during my time with the NCAA serving as an administrator and working with the Division I men’s tournament and the men’s basketball committee is the opportunity to work with people who have achieved so much in intercollegiate athletics – having the opportunity to get to know them professionally and personally is something you can’t put a money tag on.”
Because the College Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies were in Kansas City, former staff members Wayne Duke and Tom Jernstedt had a rare chance to visit with Walter Byers, the man who hired both of them at the NCAA national office.
Byers, who served as the Association’s first executive director from 1951 to 1987, is now 88 years old and lives on a ranch near the small town of Emmett, Kan.
Jernstedt and Duke caught a ride from fellow former NCAA staffer Lou Spry, and all three spent a couple of hours with the man they all credit for making the intercollegiate athletics enterprise what it is today.
“I was totally rejuvenated by being in the presence of a guy who without question was the beacon of college athletics and in my mind one of the great beacons of college basketball,” said Duke. “He is the architect of the Final Four, and I was his lackey. It is because of Walter Byers that I am here tonight.”
Jernstedt said Byers was “remarkably sharp.”
“We talked about so many things, and he hasn’t lost his touch,” Jernstedt said. “During the course of our time with him, Wayne was talking to him and bringing some of the history back to him, and Walter said, ‘Wayne, what’s your point? What’s your point?’
“He’s said the same thing to all of us at one time or another.”
- Gary Brown
Jernstedt was masterful in guiding the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, empowering committee members to make decisions to guide the game but working behind the scenes to ensure integrity and adherence to long-held principles.
C.M. Newton, a former coach at Alabama and Vanderbilt and athletics director at Kentucky and member of the committee when the championship bracket increased to 64 teams in 1985, served as Jernstedt’s presenter into the Hall of Fame.
“Tom’s contribution to basketball is not only to the Final Four but also to USA Basketball, to FIBA and to the World Games. I marvel at his abilities and at how well he has been able to bring March Madness to the great event it is,” Newton said. “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.”
Jernstedt was hired at the NCAA in 1972 as a director of events and quickly took to his oversight role with the men’s basketball championship. During the induction ceremony, Jernstedt paid special tribute to former NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers, who mentored Jernstedt for 15 years before Byers’ retirement in 1987.
“I learned very quickly from Mr. Byers that you find talented people and you empower them and let them do their work,” Jernstedt said. “In my judgment, Walter has never received the full credit he deserves for being the architect of not just the Final Four but of the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship.”
Jernstedt also recognized the many committee members who committed time and expertise to growing the tournament.
“I feel like I’m going into this Hall representing all the committee members over time and the student-athletes who have ever played this game,” he said. “Our only commitment was to make the game as good as it could be for the student-athletes and the coaches.”
Jernstedt was among eight members inducted as the Class of 2010. The others are:
Wayne Duke – The first NCAA staff member hired by Walter Byers in 1952; former commissioner of the Big Eight Conference and the Big Ten Conference; served on the men’s basketball committee from 1975 to 1981; also served on the NCAA’s Basketball Television Negotiating Committee.
Christian Laettner – Helped lead Duke to the Final Four in each of his four seasons with the Blue Devils, who captured back-to-back national championships in his final two seasons (1991 and 1992); much remembered for his buzzer-beating shot to top Kentucky, 104-103, in the 1992 East Region final; played 12 seasons in the NBA.
Davey Whitney – Won 511 games in a 35-year coaching career at Texas Southern and Alcorn State; won 12 Southwestern Athletic Conference championships; his Alcorn State teams advanced to four NCAA tournaments, including in 1980 when the Braves beat South Alabama in the first round.
Sidney Wicks – Played on three of coach John Wooden’s UCLA teams and helped lead the Bruins to NCAA championships from 1969 to 1971; was the Bruins’ leading scorer (18.6) and rebounder (11.9) as a junior when he was named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four; played 10 seasons in the NBA and earned rookie of the year honors in 1972; returned to UCLA as an assistant coach from 1984 to 1988.
Tex Winter – Won eight Big Eight Conference titles at Kansas State; also coached at Marquette, Northwestern, Washington and Long Beach State; known as the innovator of the triangle, or triple-post, offense; later earned recognition as an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls.
Jerry West and David Thompson were recognized as members of the Hall of Fame’s founding class. Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980, West was a three-time All-American at West Virginia and led the Mountaineers to the NCAA championship game. He was co-captain of the 1960 U.S. Olympic gold medal team, a 14-time NBA all-star and the league’s most valuable player in 1972. Thompson was a three-time All-American and two-time national player of the year. He led North Carolina State to the 1974 NCAA championship, was a three-time ACC player of the year and the national player of the year in his final two seasons. Thompson was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1996.
The founding class includes all of the coaches, players and contributors with roots in college basketball inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., before 2006, when the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame was established.
Comments from inductees and presenters during ceremonies at the November 21 Hall of Fame: