Tom Hansen is a big reason why BCS has become one of the most well-known abbreviations in sports.
The longest-tenured conference commissioner in the country, Hansen has spent most of his life in college athletics, regularly traveling from coast to coast for games, meetings and to work on the committee that formed the Bowl Championship Series.
Come July 1, the 71-year-old Hansen will walk away from his post as the Pac-10’s top man and into retirement after 26 years leading the conference.
“It’s going to be enormously strange,” Hansen said during a recent interview in his office. “I have absolutely no way to know what to expect. I have been consumed by the job between working nights, working weekends and going to so many games. You’re just always on the go.”
And that will continue until the day he leaves. Hansen will be replaced by Larry Scott, chairman and chief executive officer of the WTA Tour.
Scott is still fulfilling some of his obligations to the women’s tennis circuit. So Hansen will spend June finishing up a handful of duties rather than working with Scott during a transition period leading up to the change in command.
There are the Pac-10 meetings in early June, when the member schools will explore forming a television network as other conferences have done. Hansen will also head to Colorado Springs, Colo., in mid month to meet with the other conference commissioners.
“Tom Hansen has been a phenomenal role model and mentor for me and many others who have joined the conference commissioner group since he started at the Pac-10,” said Jamie Zaninovich, who just finished his first year as West Coast Conference commissioner. “What he has done not only for the Pac-10 but collegiate athletics nationally, is remarkable, and we all owe a debt of gratitude to Tom for leading the way for the rest of us.
“I think what is perhaps most extraordinary about Tom is that while he has been a leader on many watershed issues in college athletics -- such as the formation of the BCS -- he has always led with assuring the student-athlete experience as his highest priority.”
Like most organizations, the Pac-10 has spent most of this year working to cut costs. There are bowl agreements to be renewed, too.
“That’s a pretty good agenda right there,” Hansen said of his final to-do list.
He took over as commissioner at age 46 after working from 1967-83 at the NCAA. Before that, Hansen was the public relations director for the Pac-5, which then became the Pac-8 during his time. A native of tiny Castle Rock, Wash., he graduated from the University of Washington in 1959 with a degree in communications. He spent one year as a general news reporter in Vancouver, Wash., before switching careers.
“I hoped it would be a long tenure,” Hansen said. “I don’t think it’s possible to say, ‘I’m going to do this for 26 years.’ All of a sudden the first five years turn into the next five years.”
Hansen has seen the rise of Southern California football into a perennial national powerhouse and the tremendous growth of women’s basketball at Stanford, California, Arizona State and elsewhere. Even the minor sports around the league are at a new level.
“Tom Hansen is an icon in intercollegiate athletics,” Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said. “He is widely regarded as a leader of impeccable character and a person who has consistently kept the best interests of student-athletes as his first priority.”
Hansen purchased the first word processor at the NCAA and began using fax machines to send out statistics long before they were widely used.
The dramatic changes in technology have been daunting at times. Some days, Hansen arrives at work with a plan for his day only to have it change because of something greeting him in his e-mail inbox or on the Internet.
“When I started, you’d get a letter, write a letter and mail a letter,” he said. “It’s a much faster pace. The difference in pace is extraordinary.”
Hansen takes pride in the accomplishments made by women’s programs in the Pac-10, not to mention all the NCAA championships and conference schools “doing things the right way.”
And the birth of the BCS for college football 11 years ago is still his baby.
“I am and will be proud of the role I’ve played in the creation of the BCS and in the expansion and management of the BCS. I think it’s a remarkable vehicle,” Hansen said. “We spent about two hours one day thinking about what we should name it and finally, mostly because we ran out of time, settled on BCS. It’s now one of the best-known trademarks in America. Even though it’s achieved some of that recognition through controversy, sometimes that does serve to embed the mark in people’s consciousness.”
Hansen is against a college football playoff system. He insists many of the critics don’t have all the facts or realize the complexities and challenges such a concept presents.
“Most certainly you’d be playing at Ohio State in January,” Hansen said. “Look at the NFL. They don’t do a bowl game thing. They play home sites until the Super Bowl, and the colleges would have to do the same thing.”
Hansen will soon turn his attention more to family -- his fourth grandchild is due to arrive in August -- a love of riverboat travel around the world and perfecting his golf game with wife, Melva.
But he still plans to attend games, just now for fun in the stands rather than in the press box or suites doing business.
“I’m not going to walk away from it,” Hansen said. “It’s too much a part of everything I’ve done. I’ll look forward to a different perspective.”