Continuing His Legacy
Feb. 28, 2008
by Jeff Smith
During his 18-year tenure as Big Ten Commissioner, Wayne Duke strengthened the conference's tradition of fostering academic achievement by working to improve academic standards and graduation rates for student-athletes. Nearly 20 years after he left office, Duke is continuing his legacy by bearing his name to the Wayne Duke Postgraduate Award, an annual scholarship which will be presented for the first time at the 2008 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament.
The $2,500 scholarship will be awarded to one male and one female Big Ten senior student-athlete pursuing a postgraduate degree for achievements in academics, athletics, civic service, and leadership. Each Big Ten institution was able to nominate one male and one female student-athlete and the winners will be announced during the championship game of the men's tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 16.
"I am pleased from that standpoint that the conference is still recognizing academic achievement and to have my name associated with it is even more gratifying," Duke said.
The award was one of many ideas the Indianapolis community implemented that enticed the Big Ten to reward the city with a five-year agreement for both the men's and women's basketball tournaments, the first of which begins this season.
John Dedman, spokesman for the Indiana Sports Corporation, which partners with the Big Ten in hosting the annual tournaments, says the award is an example of how both the city and the conference value the student-athlete experience.
"When Indianapolis bids on an event, we really try to embrace its excitement as opposed to just meeting the requirements," Dedman said. "The community leaders who came together on this bid, led by local organizing co-chairs Jack Swarbrick and Rick Fuson, saw the opportunity to recognize the true definition of "student-athlete." There is no better example of true student-athletes than those found on Big Ten campuses.
The award is made possible by donations from local corporations and individuals supporting collegiate student-athletes. The parties responsible for the scholarship are comprised of the Indianapolis Big Ten Community Partnership - a group of key constituents that made the 2008-12 Big Ten Basketball Tournaments bid a success. Leaders from various organizations, including the State of Indiana, City of Indianapolis, Indiana Sports Corporation, Pacers Sports & Entertainment, and the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, make up the Community Partnership, but Dedman also points out that these organizations are supported by a number of companies and volunteers within the community.
The former commissioner, who is no stranger to leadership, has lauded the role that Indianapolis has assumed with regards to the tournaments. From 1971 to 1989, Duke made significant strides toward equality in the conference, both on and off the field. Not only did he expand the Big Ten ties from its lone agreement with the Rose Bowl, but he also ensured that all league schools, regardless of its performance on the field, benefited from the conference's revenue sharing agreement.
Duke also was a pioneer when it came to race and gender equality. In 1974, he hired C.D. Henry of Grambling as the first African-American assistant commissioner of any conference office. In 1989, seven years following his untimely death at age 59, Duke and the Big Ten honored Henry as the conference implemented a minority internship that beared his name.
Perhaps Duke's proudest moment came when he and Henry were instrumental in preparing the Big Ten for officially instituting women's competition in 1981-82. That same season Duke again made strides toward equality when he hired Phyllis Howlett, the first female assistant commissioner of any conference office.
Suffice to say Duke welcomed the idea of the scholarship being presented to both a male and a female recipient.
"I was there when we integrated women's athletics into the conference, so I was pleased to hear it was being offered to women as well," Duke said.
Dedman says the scholarship was a project taken on by members of the Indianapolis community. Local leaders not only contributed financially to help make the vision of this award a reality, but they also donated their time to review the applicant pool and select the winners.
"The inaugural year of any endeavor at this level requires a tremendous about of commitment," said Dedman. "Day in and day out, what inspires ISC staff, our board members, our hundreds of volunteers and our community as a whole is the excitement that occurs at events such as the Big Ten Basketball Tournaments."
In addition to the inaugural scholarship, the ISC and the Big Ten have partnered over the years to coordinate the Middle School Program and provide tickets to children who might be stepping into Conseco Fieldhouse for the first time. This season they have also joined to create the Big Ten Conference Career Expo, which will be featured on bigten.org next week.
Duke, who will be on hand to present the scholarship awards at the men's event, signals out all the supporting projects surrounding the conference tournaments and the fact that the NCAA moved its headquarters to Indianapolis as examples that the city embraces the passion of collegiate competition.
"(This scholarship) is just another in a series of activities on the part of Indianapolis to support intercollegiate athletics," Duke said.
It also ensures his legacy of fostering both academic and athletic excellence throughout his time as conference commissioner will continue.
And that, he says, is a "deep-rooted honor" that he will always remember.