Published: March 21, 2024

Meet Mr. March Madness

[Editor's Note: Each year we share the story of Brother Jernstedt and his contributions in developing the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship. Sadly,  Brother Jernstedt joined the Chapter Eternal on September 5, 2020. His legacy continues.]

Enjoying March Madness? You can thank this Theta Chi.

Starting with the NCAA in 1972 as a Director of Events (and later appointed Executive Vice President of the NCAA in 2003), Brother Tom Jernstedt (Alpha Sigma/Oregon 1966) is widely credited for steering the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship into a three-week spectacle that is widely anticipated by sports fans and non-sports fans alike.  

Consisting of only 25 teams in 1972, Jernsted was always thinking of ways to expand the tournament.  He saw the that the tournament could unfold as a true drama story; he needed to market a major storyline and to increase the cast.  The tournament would serve as the centerpiece – and it would end with a Final Four.  It needed a beginning, and Jernsted introduced the concept of Selection Sunday where the teams were publicly announced.  Throughout his tenure at the NCAA the number of teams increased from 25 to 32, then 40, 48, 52/53, and remained at 64 teams from 1985-2000.  Jernstedt then revived the play-in games (which had previously been used in 1983 and 1984) to increase the field to 65 in 2001.  As Jernstedt left the NCAA in 2010, the field was being increased to 68 teams.  

Knowing that the tournament could explode on television, Jernsted became the go-between with CBS and the NCAA.  He played a major role in the first contract between CBS and the NCAA; a three-year, $50 million contract inked in 1982, as well as extensions in 1989 and 1994 that ultimately led to the 11-year, $6 billion mega-deal that was signed in 1999. 

Whether working on the selection process or courting host cities and television deals, Jernsted was the man behind the scenes – a director for the greatest show each March.

Jernsted was born and raised in Oregon and received Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees from the University of Oregon in 1967 and 1973 respectively. While at Oregon, he played as quarterback for the Ducks from 1964-1966 before being sidelined by injury.  He was elected President of the senior class in 1966.  After graduation, Jernstedt spent two years in private business before joining the University of Oregon Athletics Department.

He left his alma mater in 1972 to join the NCAA as Director of Events. Two years later he was promoted to Assistant Executive Director, and held several senior-level management positions after that. In 2003, he was appointed Executive Vice President of the NCAA - a career with the NCAA totaling 38 years.

Jernsted had an uncanny devotion to basketball coaches and men’s basketball. He served as an advocate for the promotion of basketball on all levels. He hired good people that made good decisions, and provided the guidance necessary to keep the committees on course. He demonstrated great leadership in the evolution of the NCAA.

Jernsted was a forward thinking individual and his foresight on such issues as the incorporation of women’s basketball into its own NCAA Tournament with national television exposure provided the platform to grow that sport as well.  During his career with the NCAA, Jernsted was involved with the growth, expansion and exposure of all of the NCAA’s championships for all sports.

Throughout his career with the NCAA, Jernstedt was also heavily involved in USA Basketball, serving on its board and later as its President.  In 2009, he was honored with the Edward S. Steitz Award, which recognizes individuals for their contributions to international basketball.

Jernsted has been honored outside of the NCAA as well.  In 2001, Jernsted received the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which is their highest and most prestigious honor outside of enshrinement.  In 2010, Jernstedt was enshrined in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.  Most recently, Jernstedt was named the 2015 recipient of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association's Katha Quinn Award for service to the media and inspiration to journalism. 

After leaving the NCAA in 2010, he signed on with the Big East as a Senior Adviser and later served as a consultant for the Big 12 Conference and Mountain West Conference.  He later served as the Senior Counselor for the Jernstedt Company.  Due to his impressive resume (and undoubtedly his success with March Madness), Jernstedt was tapped to serve on the inaugural College Football Playoff Selection Committee. Click on the image below to watch Jernstedt speak on the football playoff, and to read a story where he shares his thoughts on College Football, click here.

Enjoy the Tournament, brothers - good luck with your brackets!  As you watch your favorite teams, enjoy the upsets, and cheer on that Cinderella - remember a Theta Chi helped to set the stage to make it all happen!

Read more about Brother Jernsted's life and accomplishments in his obituary and the following tributes:


The Athletic


The Indianapolis Star


The New York Times

The Oregonian

The Washington Post