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Vol. 52, No. 2 • January 2015 • .pdf version
Jernstedt named 2015 Katha Quinn Award winner
By JIM O'CONNELL
Receiving an award is certainly nothing new for Tom Jernstedt.
He has been presented with the John Bunn Award, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's highest honor short of induction; the Edward S. Steitz Award, USA Basketball's recognition for service to international basketball' and induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor.
The USBWA would like to add to that impressive list with the 2015 Katha Quinn Award. Katha was the first recipient of the award for service to the media or inspiration to journalism in 1988. It was later named after the former sports information director at St. John's when she passed away at age 35 following a long battle with cancer. Tom Jernstedt fills both of those criteria as well being someone who has served all of college and international basketball in a manner worthy of all those awards.
A 38-year employee of the NCAA and a former president of USA Basketball, Jernstedt had one responsibility that showed his importance to college basketball.
"When one thinks of the Final Four, one name immediately comes to mind, and that is Tom Jernstedt," said Wayne Duke, the 2006 Katha Quinn Award winner and former commissioner of the Big Ten and Big Eight as well one of the prominent chairmen of the NCAA Tournament Selection Commission. "He was the guy in the NCAA who kept the Final Four going and kept it out there for everyone to see. His name is synonymous with the Final Four and that holds true in so many ways with anyone involved in any degree."
Before the 2005 Final Four, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a list of the 50 most influential people in college basketball. Jernstedt was No. 1.
"Tom was the heart, soul and the passion behind the NCAA basketball tournament for a long time," former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese told Basketball Times when Jernstedt's tenure at the NCAA was ended abruptly in 2010 by president Mark Emmert. "Whether you were a coach or an administrator or anybody – if you had a question about the tournament, that's where you went – you went to Tom Jernstedt."
That included the media. Jernstedt was always available to those who covered the Final Four for an answer, an explanation or a reason. No matter how many other duties he was responsible for – and that included being a sounding board for the Selection Committee starting in 1973 – he had time for the media.
He was an integral part of the negotiations of the first contract between CBS and the NCAA for the tournament rights, a three-year, $50 million contract in 1982, as well as extensions in 1989 and 1994. Just five years later, the sides agreed on the 11-year, $6 billion deal.
"As the NCAA Tournament expanded dramatically in the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s, there was one constant: If Tom Jernstedt told you something, you could take it straight to the bank," said Malcolm Moran, who was honored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with the Curt Gowdy Award and who was a close friend of Katha's who helps maintain the high standards of the award. "The same was true when the news was not so flattering, when USA Basketball reached a low point during the disappointing 2002 World Championships at Indianapolis. On the day following the final defeat, there was Tom, standing in the middle of the press room, surrounded by reporters looking for explanations. He answered every question, never ducked an issue, and offered some of the thinking that would eventually lead to much more successful days.
"I know that Katha would be very proud to have her name linked with his."
A graduate of Oregon, where he was the Marcus Mariota of his time, the 25-year-old Jernstedt started with the NCAA in 1972 as a director of events. He left the organization as an executive vice president.
In 2013, Jernstedt joined the Big East as a senior adviser for men's basketball. This year, he was a member of the 12-person committee to decide the four teams playing in the first Football Bowl Series tournament.
Thankfully, college sports disagreed with Emmert.
Tom, his wife Kris, and son Cole live in Indianapolis, the same city where the organization he served so well for almost four decades is located.
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