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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

Jernstedt's curious exit from NCAA leads to high road

August 20, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

It’s not clear if Tom Jernstedt, a 38-year veteran of the NCAA, resigned or was fired.

Jernstedt lost his job this month when incoming NCAA President Mark Emmert, the University of Washington president, sought to reorganize the management ranks within the NCAA’s ivory tower.

When asked by IBJ yesterday about the reason for his departure, Jernstedt took the high road.

“I don’t want to go down that road,” Jernstedt said from his downtown Indianapolis home. “You’d have to ask the NCAA.”

NCAA officials stood by their press release, which was decidedly ambiguous.

Jernstedt, 65, is technically still employed by the NCAA. He said he’ll be doing some “clean-up” work until Aug. 31.

But this much is clear. The man who is credited largely for making March Madness into what it is today as well as elevating women’s athletics to all-time highs and has worked for each of the NCAA’s first four presidents, is widely beloved and respected far beyond his adopted hometown of Indianapolis.

There aren’t many people in Indy’s sports circles that don’t know Jernstedt and speak fondly of him. His allies include Jim Morris, David Frick and Sandy Knapp to name a few.

It stands to reason that Jernstedt is beloved here. He was a key figure in negotiating the NCAA’s move from Overland Park, Kansas to Indianapolis a decade ago.

And Jernstedt, who was born and raised in Oregon, said he has no plans to leave Indianapolis. Jernstedt, his wife Kris, and their seven-year-old son, are quite happy, Jernstedt said, in their home along the canal.

Cheers for Jernstedt are pouring forth from across the NCAA kingdom. It makes his departure all the more curious.

Jernstedt started with the NCAA as director of events. He helped grow championship events from 24 to the current 88. He was promoted to chief operating officer, senior vice president, associate executive director and the last seven years served as executive vice president.

Bob Walsh, former executive director of the Seattle organizing committee, said Jernstedt’s departure “will deliver a blow to the credibility of the [NCAA] that will be felt for decades.”

“It is hard for us to believe that Jernstedt would up and leave the NCAA prior to his 40th anniversary with the organization or before the 75th anniversary of the (NCAA basketball) tournament, which he developed into a household name,” Walsh added.

Walsh credits Jernstedt for turning March Madness into a “multi-billion dollar” enterprise that benefits schools and student-athletes nationwide.

Jernstedt has no plans to retire. He intends to take a few months to determine “what next?” Jernstedt said since his departure was announced Aug. 13, he’s gotten numerous calls from friends and colleagues.

Since Jernstedt knows just about everyone in not only the NCAA, but the National Basketball Association, U.S. Olympic Committee, not to mention local organizations such as the Indiana Sports Corp., I don’t imagine it will be long before some type of offer is forthcoming.

“I’ve been advised to take my time and evaluate my options,” Jernstedt said. “That’s what I intend to do. We’ll see where this road leads.”

High ground, no doubt.
 

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