How big is it for BYU that athletic director Tom Holmoe was named to the NCAA men's basketball selection committee Wednesday?
Just as important as it is for USU that athletic director Scott Barnes is the committee's chair. Just like it was large for the Utes when athletic director Chris Hill served on that committee from 2004 through 2009, right before the school received an invite to the Pac-12.
This assignment is inclusive. It comes with handshakes, associations and friends, some in high places. Holmoe replaces outgoing WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, who is leaving the conference to be the chief operating officer of the Pac-12.
As a football independent, void of conference ties, Holmoe and BYU can use all the pals they can find during these days of so much tumult in NCAA athletics.
“You can never have enough friends,” said former BYU athletic director Val Hale, now president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce after serving as vice president of Utah Valley University. Hale served as a committee member and chairman of the NCAA golf championship committee in the early part of the last decade.
The Cougars are kind of a lone ranger as an independent. I’d say they’re starved for networking in college athletics. Exclusion from being considered a Power 5 opponent in SEC and ACC football scheduling made that clear.
Holmoe’s close relationship to Zaninovich may have led to this committee assignment. They’ve known one another since Holmoe's days in Northern California.
Holmoe needs this and every major bowl junket he can get on, every Nike athletic director golf event he can schedule, and every coaching association cruise ship he can book.
When legendary BYU coach LaVell Edwards was glad-handing around the country from the '70s through 2000, and his wife Patti organized the College Football Coaches Wives Association, it was easy to receive UPI and AP votes, and ballots for Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien and Outland Award honors.
Edwards was an ambassador of untold influence, primarily because of associations. From his iron grip handshakes with Baylor’s Grant Teaff and his joking around and back-pounding with Bobby Bowden to his mutual respect with Joe Paterno, Edwards was beloved, a welcomed peer.
“In 1984, when BYU was awarded the national title, I think it was as much respect and love for LaVell Edwards as it was for what the football team did on the field,” said Hale.
Like Saudi royalty and U.S businessmen, America and Israel, Democrats and labor, Las Vegas and electronic machines, associations help.
And the Cougars need help these days.
Just how big are these associations?
“Committee assignments with the NCAA are one of the best ways to get other athletic directors but have influence with your school. Obviously the NCAA basketball committee is a plum assignment, a prestigious one with a lot of money involved and it’s a hard assignment to get,” said Hale.
Former USU, Utah and BYU athletic figure LaDell Andersen served on the 1981 NCAA selection committee and shared with Hale a most remarkable anecdote.
“He told me that year he battled to get BYU in the tournament," Hale related. "The Cougars were the last team in and if he hadn’t argued and debated to make a case for that team, they would have been left out. It was the year of Danny Ainge’s last-second scoring dash against Notre Dame and appearance in the Elite Eight under Frank Arnold.”
Imagine that. No Ainge play, regarded as one of the most exciting clutch moments in tournament history.
“It’s a real feather in Tom’s cap to be on that committee,” said Hale.
In his opinion, over the years, Hale believes the NCAA selection committee has dealt BYU a series of bad seeds. “They’ve dissed BYU with horrible seeds, and having BYU’s athletic director on that committee will help in that regard.”
Of note, athletic directors and conference commissioners on the committee leave the room when their respective teams and conferences are voted on. But that doesn’t mean their influence doesn’t linger. USU’s Barnes likely helped BYU receive a higher bid than many thought they deserved this past season.
Not having a football conference affiliation and other ADs protecting one’s back could be considered another reason independent BYU needs the slot.
But Hale said that isn’t always the case.
“Even when BYU was in a conference, I’m not sure other conference representatives went to bat for BYU. I think BYU rarely got a fair shake. Some of our best supporters were usually from other conferences who liked BYU and had great relationships with our athletic directors.
“(NCAA committee members) like to say they’re objective, just like reporters like to say they’re objective, but I think there’s a natural bias that comes into play.”
The LaDell Andersen anecdote, according to Hale, shows how important it is to have the right people going to bat for you.
Moral to this news story?
BYU needs to get back in the ambassador business the school had with Edwards back in the day. Holmoe may or may not become that person. NCAA leadership positions are important. BYU golf coach Bruce Brockbank will also serve on the NCAA golf championship committee beginning this month.
But Holmoe's perch on the NCAA basketball committee is a start.
And his Cougars need all the allies, pals, chums and amigos they can snuggle up to in 2014.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].