One Duke is here, another isn't 

Wayne Duke, a Final Four fixture, won't be at this year's event, just the second he has missed since 1953.

The first full-time NCAA employee who later became commissioner of the Big Eight and Big Ten, Duke wasn't allowed to make the trip from his Barrington, Ill. home after undergoing recent shoulder surgery.

What made the doctors' decision even tougher is that Duke is a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame's 2010 class that is being honored this weekend.

"I can always walk out in front of 80,000 people and hear my name," he said with a laugh on Wednesday.

Everyone involved at the Final Four — administrators, coaches, players and fans — should all know his name as one of the architects of what turned into March Madness.

"I was hired by Walter Byers in 1952, and the NCAA took over the tournament the next year," Duke said. "I wrote the first tournament handbook and people have told me it's been used for all the tournaments in all sports since."

He left the NCAA a decade later and became the commissioner of the Big Eight at age 34. He later went on to lead the Big Ten, but he never lost his roots with the NCAA tournament.

He served on the tournament committee from 1976 to 1981 and was chairman of it for four years, a post that now lasts two years at the most.

The tournament expanded to what it is now under his charge. He was the driving force behind allowing more than one team from a conference to participate, behind the start of the seeding process, behind the use of computer ratings, three-man officiating crews, televising every game, moving games to domes and the list goes on and on.

"In my mind Wayne played a very significant leadership role in the growth and development of the NCAA men's basketball championship," said NCAA executive vice president Tom Jernstedt, a 38-year NCAA employee who also is being inducted into the collegiate hall of fame.

Duke, as is his way, won't take the credit.

"A lot of people contributed to the tournament over a lot of years," he said. "Timing is important. It was an unusual group of guys who preceded me and followed me on the committee."

One of those men was Vic Bubas, the former Sun Belt Conference commissioner who has participated in the Final Four as a player, coach, commissioner, committee member and committee chair.

He said he can never forget Duke's words to the committee as they prepared to start selecting the field one year.

"He told us 'it's an awesome responsibility,'" Bubas said. "That should be his legacy."

Duke, who missed the 1965 Final Four because of back surgery, understands what it means to a team to make the tournament.

"We had a summer meeting where more conferences were included as automatic qualifiers, and the Ohio Valley Conference was one of them," Duke said. "When the meeting ended I saw the president of Tennessee Tech, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, standing around waiting to talk to me. He said he waited around so he could thank me for opening up the tournament. He said ... 'it means we are somebody.' I've never forgotten that."

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