Kentuckian who helped develop Final Four dies

Dave Cawood, a Harlan County native and former NCAA executive who played a crucial role in developing the NCAA men's basketball Final Four into a national sports extravaganza equal to the World Series and the Super Bowl, died Sunday in Louisville. He was 64.

Mr. Cawood went for a morning walk, and when he returned home, he collapsed. An emergency unit rushed him to Baptist East Hospital, but efforts to save him were unsuccessful.

David E. Cawood was a first cousin of the late Cawood Ledford, the legendary radio voice of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Mr. Cawood will be buried Wednesday near Cawood Ledford's grave in the Cawood family cemetery in Harlan County, said Sam Dunn, a former colleague of Mr. Cawood's at Host Communications.

Although Mr. Cawood was not a Kentucky icon like his cousin, he nevertheless forged his own eminent and influential career in big-time college athletics.

”Dave was one of those people that other people across the country would call for advice,“ Dunn said.

Mr. Cawood was in charge of the NCAA's media relations from 1975 to 1997.

In that role, he collaborated with another NCAA executive, Tom Jernstedt, to expand the men's Final Four into a gripping nationwide basketball spectacle

”I'd say he was the Final Four“ in his early years with the NCAA, said retired UK basketball coach Joe B. Hall, whose Wildcats won the NCAA in 1978.

”Dave was a big driving force in expanding the Final Four and making it what it is today. He had a lot of say in the site, certainly all of the public relations.“

Jernstedt said Mr. Cawood ”had a delightful sense of humor and an outstanding relationship with the media. He earned their respect and had a very keen understanding of their needs.“

Oscar Combs, founder and retired publisher of The Cats' Pause, an independent newspaper about UK sports, said Mr. Cawood and Jernstedt pushed the Final Four to new levels of interest and excitement.

Most of the NCAA brass had football backgrounds, Combs said, but Jernstedt and the Kentuckian Mr. Cawood had an innate feel for basketball.

”That the Final Four is a crown jewel in sports is something for which people should be forever indebted to Dave Cawood,“ Combs said.

Mr. Cawood enjoyed a brother-to-brother relationship with David Housel, a retired Auburn University athletics director.

An emotional Housel, who traveled to Louisville on Monday to be with the bereaved family, said ”Dave Cawood was part of me, part of my decision-making process, part of my ideal.“

Mr. Cawood possessed ”great and impeccable integrity and human caring,“ Housel said.

Friends called Mr. Cawood ”Big Daddy“ as a ”term of respect and affection,“ Housel said.

After Mr. Cawood finished his NCAA career, he and his wife, Sheila, came home to Kentucky, settling in Lexington.

He became executive vice president in charge of collegiate sports at Host Communications, the sports marketing company. She was a teacher at Lansdowne Elementary.

Mr. Cawood oversaw negotiations with CBS for a $1.725 billion agreement — the first $1 billion rights fees for a sports event — that included corporate sponsorships, licensing and television and media provisions.

Jim Host, who founded and ran the company until he sold it in 1999, said patience was Mr. Cawood's ”best asset.“ His neighborly demeanor allowed him to keep a cool head during negotiations, to maintain friendships with people on all levels and to remain content to work behind the scenes.

”He treated people fairly, and yet he was tough when he needed to be,“ Host said. ”He never had any airs about him.“

The Cawoods moved earlier this year to Louisville, where Mr. Cawood was president of FSA, an association management firm.

Mr. Cawood was inducted into the halls of fame for the College Sports Information Directors of America and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. He was an honorary member of the NCAA basketball committee.

Mr. Cawood was a graduate of Harlan High School and was a board member of the Harlan Independent Schools Foundation, which is trying to prevent a merger of the city and county schools.

He earned his bachelor's degree at Baylor University. He was sports information director at Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State, Baylor, Southern Methodist and at Arkansas before he joined the NCAA staff.

Mr. Cawood is survived by his wife, now an elementary teacher in Bullitt County, and a son, Jeff Cawood, a television producer for Fox Sports in Los Angeles.

Services for Mr. Cawood will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Harlan Baptist Church, 305 Mound Street, Harlan.

Visitation will be at the church from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday.