- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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When Tom Jernstedt started at the NCAA, March wasn’t terribly mad. The NCAA tournament field was a measly 25 teams in 1972. But with Jernstedt’s help, the tourney grew to its current 68-team bracket, turning March into a basketball lover’s three-week holiday.
In between, Jernstedt earned the respect and admiration of his peers, not always an easy feat for a lifer at NCAA headquarters.
That’s why the Big East’s announcement that Jernstedt would join the league as a senior advisor is a big deal. The new-look Big East is still getting its house in order, trying to figure out where exactly it fits in the college basketball hierarchy, trying to best determine how to maximize its potential.
According to the league, Jernstedt will help commissioner Val Ackerman and other league administrators with officiating, scheduling, postseason play and an entire strategic plan.
Jernstedt can help with all of those things, but more important, his presence gives the Big East instant credibility. The core of the league, the Catholic 7, made the quick move to secede and reform, but since then it’s been slow in filling out the particulars of the conference. Ackerman was named commissioner in June, but the new Big East remains very much in the creation stages.
In addition, just how it will be perceived in college basketball remains to be seen. Jernstedt’s playing days are slightly behind him -- he was a quarterback, anyway -- but he can help the conference navigate through the landmines of what is now very much a power-broker world.
He’s both well versed in basketball and well connected. During his tenure at the NCAA, he negotiated television contracts, marketed the NCAA tourney and worked hand-in-hand with the selection committee. His opinions and thoughts are so valued that he was recently named to the inaugural College Football Playoff selection committee.
A Hall of Famer, Jernstedt spent 38 years at the NCAA headquarters before stepping down in 2010. Though it was announced that he resigned, Jernstedt technically was forced out when Mark Emmert came on board as NCAA president and reconfigured his management team.
"(Jernstedt’s) stature, knowledge, relationships, professionalism and unqualified passion for the game will be of tremendous value to the Big East as we look to make our mark in our first season as a reconstituted league and build our long-term basketball and conference development plan," Ackerman said in a statement.