HOTSEAT- Nabob of NCAA: Littlepage makes tough choices
When it comes to his days playing college hoops at Penn, Craig Littlepage can reminisce as exquisitely as anyone. "I played on some great teams, some of the more successful teams in the history of that program," he says with all the weighty wistfulness of a former athlete reliving the glory days.
The thing is, the glory days aren't exactly over. After all, when Littlepage stepped up from his position as UVA's Director of Athletics to head up the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Committee, he was put in charge of the holy grail of basketball tournaments. That's right– this is the guy who was responsible for March Madness 2006.
"John Casteen expects University of Virginia representatives to be leaders in their given field. He didn't want senior members of the University community to just participate," says Littlepage.
That's why he was excited about taking the helm, even though it meant being the focal point for criticism in a year when the gaps between teams in the power conferences and the mid-majors were harder to quantify than ever, and the tournament selection process was correspondingly difficult.
"There's no road map, no blueprint for how you do that and make decisions about their participation in the tournament," says Littlepage. "This past year changed the way we all looked at college basketball and how we compare teams between conferences. We were ridiculed for some of the decisions we made."
But he's confident that the refined evaluation methods the committee devised in rising to the occasion will serve the tournament well in the years to come, even after his five-year term on the committee expires in August 2007. "It created one of the most exciting tournaments in the history of what has been one of the greatest sporting events of all time," he says.
Littlepage started on the other side of the tournament: right after college, he was picked up as an assistant coach for Villanova University. But after becoming increasingly frustrated with the recruitment process– citing the growing influence of shoe companies, among other things– he traded in his whistle for a white collar.
"I think that one of the reasons I got into administrative work was to be in the position of a decision-maker," he says. "As a coach, my work was with 14 or 15 student athletes. My work as an administrator conceivably touches 650 student athletes, dozens of coaches, and has an impact on the University community and the community at large."
At UVA, it has also led to the hiring of many promising new head coaches, the revitalization of struggling athletic programs, and considerable expansion of the athletics infrastructure– the most notable example, of course, being the new John Paul Jones arena.
But if you ask Littlepage, there are only three effective measures of success: "We play by the rules, our student athletes graduate, and our teams win."
Why here? I came here in 1976 to coach ACC basketball with Terry Holland.
What's worst about living here? The July-August heat and humidity
Favorite hangout? Any fitness or exercise room
Most overrated virtue? Flexibility
People would be surprised to know? I'm the area's largest consumer of duct tape.
What would you change about yourself? I'd be better at throwing stuff away.
Proudest accomplishment? My family– a beautiful wife, Margaret, and three children with character
People find most annoying about you? I tune everything and everybody out when I'm in a hurry.
Whom do you admire? Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King Jr.
Favorite book? Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet or Jeffrey Marx's A Season of Life
Subject that causes you to rant? Uninformed talk show callers and uninformed bloggers
Biggest 21st century thrill? Growth and success of UVA athletics
Biggest 21st century creep-out? Badjocks.com and telemarketers
What do you drive? Navy blue Tahoe with orange pinstripe
In your car CD player right now? Spinners' Definitive Soul Collection
Next journey? Fenway Park or Wrigley Field
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Being sent to the principal's office on my first day of high school
Regret? I stopped playing baseball.
Favorite comfort food? Peanut butter
Always in your refrigerator? Cranberry juice
Must-see TV? Reruns of the TV series The Fugitive
Favorite cartoon? The Roadrunner
Describe a perfect day: A home ACC football game in mid-October at the stadium
Walter Mitty fantasy? Road manager on a "Motown Oldies" tour
Who'd play you in the movie? Denzel Washington would play the younger CL; Morgan Freeman would play the current CL
Most embarrassing moment? I slipped as I attempted to plant my foot in the high jump at the high school district championship.
Best advice you ever got? Be the same person everyday.
Favorite bumper sticker? "I brake for Leonard Sandridge."
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO