Tom Jernstedt, an Architect of March Madness, Dies at 75

Tom Jernstedt, who helped rework the N.C.A.A. males’s school basketball event into the foremost annual sports activities attraction often known as March Madness, died on Saturday outdoors his dwelling in Tequesta, Fla. He was 75.

His spouse, Kristine Kellam Jernstedt, stated he had completed exercising and died in his automobile whereas studying a newspaper.

Mr. Jernstedt joined the N.C.A.A. in 1972 and over the subsequent 38 years labored behind the scenes to show the Division I basketball event right into a a lot greater occasion than it had been, attracting many extra followers and producing extra income.

In a succession of jobs, in the end as government vice chairman, he oversaw the day-to-day operations of the occasion, the enlargement of taking part groups from 25 to 65 and the choice of bigger websites, together with domed stadiums, for the Final Four video games.

“Tom was a brilliant administrator and diplomat,” Bill Hancock, a former N.C.A.A. official who is now executive director of the College Football Playoff, said in a phone interview. “He had a great ability to say no, without cramming his decision down your throat.”

Mr. Jernstedt also worked with the local committees that hosted the Final Four, which consists of the semifinals and the championship game; helped create the policies governing the selection and seeding of the teams in the tournament; and was the lead staff member during negotiations with television networks that generated millions, and then billions, of dollars from CBS.

“He understood our business exceptionally well, especially for someone who hadn’t been in television,” Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports, said by phone. One weekend during the tournament, he said, a glitch at its broadcast center in Manhattan caused the network to lose the technical ability to air commercials that were worth more than $1 million.

“I told Tom, ‘It’s our fault we lost the commercials, can we add them the next weekend?’” Mr. Pilson recalled. “He said, ‘Go ahead, but don’t do it again.’ Some people we deal with might have said, ‘No, you’re out of luck,’ but Tom said, ‘Just get it done.’”

Mr. Jernstedt became known as the “father of the Final Four,” but he was not working alone. He worked closely with top N.C.A.A. leaders like Walter Byers; David Cawood, another N.C.A.A. executive; and the organization’s powerful men’s basketball committee. The committee’s rotating membership meant that Mr. Jernstedt had the organization’s deepest institutional knowledge.

Thomas Walter Jernstedt was born on Nov. 24, 1944, in McMinnville, Ore., and raised in nearby Carlton. His mother, Catherine (Anderson) Jernstedt, was a librarian; his father, Donald, owned and operated a school bus company.

He had a mild case of polio when he was 5 years old, which left him unable to rock back on the heel of his right foot.

Nevertheless, he grew up an athlete.

In high school he was a star quarterback, basketball guard and pitcher. He was a reserve quarterback and tight end on the University of Oregon’s varsity football team; by his senior year, no longer playing much, he began helping the athletic department recruit high school players when they visited the campus in Eugene.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1967, he worked selling electrical equipment and spices. But he returned to Oregon two years later to run events at the request of Len Casanova, his football coach, who had become the athletic director.

After becoming the athletic department’s business manager — where he helped run the 1972 track and field championships at Oregon’s Hayward Field — he was hired by the N.C.A.A. later that year as events director. (He also earned his master’s in curriculum and instruction from Oregon in 1973.)

Even after he began running the men’s basketball tournament, Mr. Jernstedt oversaw other N.C.A.A championships, and helped develop the women’s basketball tournament.

“Because he had not done it full time, he knew that the N.C.A.A. had not invested enough time in all the details and knew he needed a nerd like me to do that,” said Mr. Hancock, who succeeded Mr. Jernstedt as the basketball tournament’s director in 1989.

Mr. Jernstedt continued to oversee March Madness even while he served as the president of USA Basketball, the governing body of the sport, from 2001 to 2004.

He remained with the N.C.A.A. until 2010, when his job was eliminated by Mark Emmert, the association’s new president, in a restructuring. In 2017, Mr. Jernstedt was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which cited the tournament’s growth “into the phenomenon that makes March a college basketball fan’s favorite time of the year.”

He was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame last month.

In recent years, Mr. Jernstedt consulted with various college conferences, including the Big East and the Pac-12.

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