The Oregon athletics community is mourning the passing of Tom Jernstedt (BS ’67, MS ’73). The former UO football player and administrator spent nearly four decades with the NCAA and helped make its men’s basketball tournament one of the marquee events in American sports.
A native of Carlton, southwest of Portland, Jernstedt passed away this past weekend. He was 75.
“We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tom Jernstedt,” UO athletic director Rob Mullens said. “Tom was an outstanding leader and his impact on college athletics was immeasurable, including his tremendous work building the NCAA Tournament and the Final Four. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”
As a proud Oregonian and passionate Duck, Jernstedt once dreamed of being the athletic director at UO; but, after working briefly for the UO athletics department out of college, Jernstedt took a position with the NCAA and ended up spending 38 years there. Of his many accomplishments, Jernstedt helped spearhead the initiation of NCAA championship events in women’s athletics, and his impact on the growth of the men’s basketball tournament was such that he became known as the “Father of the Final Four.”
“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement to The Associated Press. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”
Jernstedt was a 1967 graduate of the University of Oregon, having played quarterback for head coach Len Casanova. After Casanova retired from coaching, he served as athletic director and hired Jernstedt for his first administrative position in college athletics.
“As I’ve traveled the country and beyond, I would not have had the career I’ve had if I hadn’t gone to the University of Oregon,” Jernstedt told the UO Alumni Association on the eve of his Hall of Fame induction in 2017. “I love the state of Oregon, I love the University of Oregon, and I wish I were there now. It’s a special place, and I would not have had the career and the good fortune that I’ve had if I had not been offered a scholarship from Mr. Casanova.”
In honor of Jernstedt’s contributions to the University of Oregon and the NCAA, his family established the Tom Jernstedt Student-Athlete Scholarship, which will annually benefit a Duck athlete’s pursuit of a college education and serve as a testament to his mission and legacy.