The path that has taken Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen to a spot on the prestigious NCAA Division I Basketball Committee got its start in a junior high gym in central Iowa.
And it wasn't a very good start.
“I don't think anyone at that time would have thought I'd end up in a position where I'm involved with every major college basketball program in the country,” Rasmussen said, thinking back to his first game as a coach.
After graduating from Northern Iowa, Rasmussen took a job coaching seventh- and eighth-grade basketball in Murray, Iowa, a farming community of about 750 people 55 miles southwest of Des Moines.
Rasmussen's first game was in nearby Creston, and he grew frustrated with some of the calls made by the one official refereeing the game. Rasmussen finally had enough.
He cooked up a plan during a timeout. One of his players, he decided, would guard the referee.
“The (ref) was a homer, and I told him if he was going to play for them, we were going to guard him,” Rasmussen said.
So what happened?
“He kicked me out.”
But, as his career attests, Rasmussen always comes back for more.
Although he's spent the past two decades in athletic administration, Rasmussen remains a basketball junkie. He came to Creighton in 1980 as the women's basketball coach and was the program's all-time leader in wins when he decided to move into administration in 1992.
He can still break down the game with the best of them while retaining a keen understanding of the fragility of the sport. Those abilities should serve Rasmussen well as he takes on the challenge of helping run the NCAA's most prestigious event — the 68-team Division I men's basketball tournament.
He learned last winter that he had been appointed to the 10-member committee, which selects and seeds the tournament field and oversees the tournament operation.
He had come close in the past to securing a spot on the committee.
“It's my understanding that twice they got down to a final two, and they picked someone else,” Rasmussen said. “I think they finally just got tired of looking at my application and said, 'Let's get this over with.' ”
Rasmussen spent time during last season's tournament learning the ropes by shadowing committee members on each of the three tournament weekends. He became a committee member in the summer, attending meetings at which some of the restrictions that hindered the seeding process were relaxed.
But the real work begins this week with the start of the 2013-14 season. Between now and Selection Sunday in mid-March, Rasmussen will watch thousands of games in order to prepare himself for the task of helping select the tournament field.
Rasmussen is either the primary or secondary observer for eight conferences — American Athletic, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Horizon, Summit, Metro Atlantic, Mid-Eastern Athletic and West Coast. It will be his responsibility to learn everything he can about each team.
He also expects to keep track of developments in Creighton's new conference, the Big East, as well as its old one, the Missouri Valley.
“In reality, I'll be watching 10 conferences,” Rasmussen said. “But at different parts of the year, I'll be asked to rate 68 teams that should be in the tournament and get them on the right (seeding) line.
“You just can't watch your conferences. You have to watch all the conferences to have an idea where your teams rate with others.”
In order to keep track of his leagues, Rasmussen has undergone a technology upgrade, both at his home and at his office. A new 50-inch television hangs on his office wall, replacing the “1950s TV that used be on the shelf.”
He has subscribed to a satellite television service and an online viewing package. He also will be able to download games from an online scouting service.
“Basically, the NCAA provides me with whatever platform that college basketball games are on,” Rasmussen said.
He also has access to a variety of statistical services that will provide him “just about anything you want on any team in the country.”
Rasmussen said he expects one of his challenges will be sorting through all that information to come up with what he said is important to him. What he values in evaluating teams, he said, might be different than another member of the committee.
“For one committee member it might be point margin, for another it might be RPI and for still another it might be defense,” Rasmussen said. “When I was coaching, I always felt that one of the toughest things to do was win on the road.
“I put a lot more credence in road wins than some might. And when I coached, I would always look at how we did against the 10 best teams that we played. That's kind of how I judge teams, by looking at the 10 best teams they have on the schedule and seeing how they did in those games.”
Rasmussen figures he'll have plenty of help in evaluating teams. First, he plans to communicate with a network of administrators and coaches he has built over the years.
“There aren't a lot of advantages to being old,” Rasmussen said, “but one of them is that you've established relationships with a lot of people.”
Rasmussen also intends to use four members of the Creighton staff — associate athletic directors Kevin Sarver and Mark Burgers, sports information director Rob Anderson and Gabe Connealy, a manager for the men's basketball team — as unofficial observers.
“They'll each get a primary and a secondary league, and they'll watch those games,” Rasmussen said. “I'd like their opinions and see what they feel compared to me.”
Rasmussen said he intends to establish a daily routine that will allow him to watch games, either before or after his normal work day. He'll also have to make time for committee meetings throughout the season.
He will be in Dallas this week as the committee will check out AT&T Stadium, site of this season's Final Four. Committee members will meet again at the NCAA convention in January and in mid-February, where Rasmussen said they will set the groundwork for the week they'll spend in Indianapolis in early March when they select this season's tournament field.
From there, committee members will be assigned to the various tournament sites to help with the operation of the event.
“They told me when I got on the committee that I should expect to spend about 60 days a year away from Omaha,” Rasmussen said.
The position is non-paying, but Rasmussen said he sees benefits that could come Creighton's way. He believes his committee service could open up some men's basketball scheduling opportunities.
Rasmussen said Creighton already has landed a home-and-home series with a Big 12 school that begins next year because of his committee connections. Creighton is waiting for the contract to be returned before announcing the series publicly.
Rasmussen said he also has talked with fellow committee member Mark Hollis, the Michigan State athletic director.
“I would be shocked that if in the next five years, we don't have a home-and-home with Michigan State,” Rasmussen said. “Or a game somewhere with Michigan State.”
Expanding his network with coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners, Rasmussen said, could help Creighton in everything from hiring staff members to having a greater impact in possible changes to NCAA legislation.
“If we have someone leave, whether it's an assistant basketball coach or a volleyball coach, I'll be able to go to a lot of people and ask, 'Who in your league should we look at?'
“If we have ideas on NCAA policies, we'll have the ear of a lot of different conferences.”
One of the drawbacks is that Rasmussen's duties won't allow him to attend the conference tournament for the next five years. Should Creighton make the NCAA tournament while he's on the committee, he would be assigned to a different site.
“We finally get in what could be the best conference tournament in the country,” Rasmussen said, “and I'm not going to get to see it for five years.”
That's a small price to pay considering the satisfaction Rasmussen will get from serving on the committee.
“Right now, I'm like a kid in the candy store,” he said.