Tales from the NAIA: Why Bruce Parker was the Greatest Athletic Director I Ever Encountered.

Last summer on July 2nd the world, the NAIA, college athletics, and most importantly the Parker family, lost a great man. His name was Bruce Parker and he was my friend. At the time when he passed away, I stated on social media that I would give Bruce his due down the road. I’ve always been a bit miffed on how we honor someone when they pass away and then we hear nary a word about them until some posthumous award is given to them or a building is named in their honor.

Bruce and Lisa Parker. Photo from 406MTSports.com

So many people knew, loved, and respected Bruce. If I would’ve written about him last summer my experiences would’ve been lost in the outpouring of love and grief displayed for Bruce. So I am being a bit selfish writing this down the road and wanting people to pay attention to what I have to say. There are a ton of stories I would like to share about Bruce, but for now I want to focus on a few things that made him special and how he helped me personally.

Casey Page of 406MTSports.com wrote a great piece on Bruce. If you need to catch up, here it is: “Bruce Parker, a decorated Montana sports figure who is enshrined in five Halls of Fame for his work as athletic director at Carroll College and then Rocky Mountain College, died after a long fight with diabetes and complications following a kidney transplant. He was 64.”

Bruce understood what I was trying to do when I owned the Victory Sports Network and he saw what it meant to schools, athletes and alumni. He was a trusted advisor to my business and did everything he could to help me grow it into the national media for NAIA athletics. He also understood the struggles that I had with NAIA national office early in my career. I was the young kid poking them in the side all the time. I’d ask them questions they didn’t want to answer and often times did not following their protocols. They didn’t hate me but they didn’t exactly like me. The NAIA tolerated me. Then a moment in November of 2007 changed it all.

Allow me to set the scene: I created the Victory Sports Network in 2002. All I ever wanted to do at that time was cover NAIA athletics and provide information to a national audience of underserved athletes. I’ll admit, one mistake I made early on was not playing nice with the NAIA and some of their staff in the first three or four years. But as the business grew, so did my interactions with the national office and the relationship got better to a point. Until it didn’t.

You see, I was able to work with the NAIA on a lot of projects until they didn’t want me around anymore those projects any further. The reason, “Well, you’re media. We can’t have media as a part of this.”

The situation finally came to a head that fateful fall in ’07. Every year since 2004 I attended the NAIA National Championship game in Savannah, Tenn. and stayed at the Pickwick Inn. The Pickwick was the main hotel for the teams. This would give me the opportunity to interview coaches and players right there on site and not have to spend my day tracking them down all over town.

Then came the call from the NAIA, “Sorry Jason. You’re media. We can’t have you stay at the hotel. No media is allowed to stay at the team hotel.”

I had questions. What about the local media travelling with the team? Are they staying there? What about the announcers from CSTV? Are they staying there?

“You’re a different type of media than those entities.”

Enter Bruce Parker.

I was pissed. I called Bruce to vent. I probably spent 15 minutes motherfucking everyone at the national office, their families and their pets. It was inappropriate. . .but I needed to vent. He understood where I was coming from and agreed that all media should be treated the same. Either we all get to stay at the hotel or none of us get to stay at the hotel. That was my biggest issue. I felt like I was being singled out and it was pretty obvious that I was at the time.

Bruce gave me the best piece of advice. In short he said, “Well Jason, they say you are media. So be media. Report what you know. Report what your sources tell you and see what happens.”

Keep in mind this was early November and the NAIA Championship Series postseason pairings would be coming out in a few weeks. On the Sunday after the end of the regular season the NAIA would have a committee get together on a conference call to discuss the final rating and make the pairings for the postseason. In 2007, that announcement was set for 1:00CST on the NAIA website. Every year I would wait for the NAIA to post the official pairings and then I would release them on my web site.

Well if you are following this story at all. . .you know what happened next.

On NAIA Football Selection Sunday in 2007, I became the official national media of the NAIA. Like any member of the media would do, I called my sources, verified information and posted a story: “The Unofficial But Official First Round Pairings of the NAIA Championship Series.”

I posted the story at 11:50 a.m. It was the complete rundown of who was playing who and where. 100% accurate. The NAIA didn’t post their story until 1:15 p.m. At 2:00 p.m. I received a very unpleasant phone call from an employee of the NAIA national office. This was the same person who told me I couldn’t stay at the team hotel because I. . .was. . . media.

After they spent the first minute or so talking down to me like I was a child and saying things like, “I don’t understand how you could do this?” “Why would you do this to us on such an important day?” “Jason, this destroys all trust we had in you.” It was finally my turn to respond.

“Well am I media or not? I can’t stay in the team hotel because I am media, right? So what does the media do? The media reports stories where we gather information from trusted sources and then publishes the findings. That’s exactly what I have done. So I’ll ask you again, am I media or am I not?” (Full transparency: I did not say this in a nice tone and the word “fuck” was used in various forms. I was not professional.)

This led to them asking where I got the information from and you can bet I never told them and they’ll never find out my source. Well. . . unless this article happens to shed a little light.

I will admit, posting that information severely damaged my relationship with the NAIA and it’s staff for about 30-60 days. Then the NAIA football postseason was over and it was time for them and I to get together and work things out. Several ADs had suggested to the NAIA leadership they should work with me because ultimately, the Victory Sports Network was good for their brand. One of the ADs who suggested the meeting was Bruce Parker.

Bruce helped to blow up the situation and then helped to fix the situation. He knew the NAIA needed to see me in a different light and, I think we would all agree a more peaceful approach would’ve been better, the larger incident led to a quicker resolution to the relationship.

That was Bruce. I loved that guy. He knew when he needed to push a button and knew when to back off. He was the ultimate professional and knew when it was ok to be a little unprofessional. He could be stern and sweet in the same sentence.

“Get that shit out of the office!” I once heard him holler at a work study. Only followed in the same breath by, “Good luck tomorrow at your game, you’re doing an excellent job.”

I learned a lot from him and am happy to say that even after I left the world of college athletics I could call him my friend. A few years ago I was in his living room in Billings, Mont. visiting with him while I was in town for my current job and it felt like a couple old friends just catching up. He could make anyone feel comfortable having a conversion.

The final time I talked to Bruce was via phone last spring before he passed away. I remember it like an old photo. I was in my living room and his name popped up on my phone. I was watching the Royals on TV and it was raining outside. We talked for what felt like 10 minutes but in reality was 55. I’ve been out of the NAIA game for almost 10 years and have basically moved on from all association with VSN due to my current job/life requirements. I started giving him shit about the number of Hall of Fames he was in and asked if the hospital that did the transplant on his kidney was going to put him in their “Surgical Hall of Fame.” He laughed and then out of the blue, I remember him piping up. . .

“Damnit Jason, you need to be proud of what you did for the NAIA,” he said. “You did that, you built that, that was you. Nobody else did that for the NAIA. They oughta put you in the Hall of Fame. They won’t. I will. I’ll nominate you. That’ll make some butts pucker.”

That was him, that was Bruce. He was the most professional shit stirrer I have ever met. And I mean that in such a good way. He could stand in front of all of the NAIA delegation at the NAIA National Convention and say something very profound, professional, and well prepared. . .but in reality he was stirring things up and no one realized it until after the meeting.

“Wait a second, I think Bruce just told them to either shit or get off the pot because he was tired of having this debate. . .but professionally?”

I titled this piece, “Why Bruce Parker was the Greatest Athletic Director I Ever Encountered” as no disrespect to the great ADs I’ve met. There have been many that helped me professionally like Jim Abbott in his time at Oklahoma City, Kevin Steele currently at Ottawa University in Arizona, and so many others. Bruce just happened to be to guy I gravitated toward first while helping to move my business along. He helped me go from part-time VSN dreams to fulltime VSN employed. He wanted to launch my career. Here’s just a few things I remember him doing on the broadcast end:

  • He helped set up my first road trip to Carroll College when they beat Central Washington in 2004. This led to many more visits to NAIA schools all over the country.
  • He put me on local TV broadcasts to help promote my business.
  • When Carroll College made it to the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Tournament, he had me on the TV broadcast as the color analyst.
  • At one of the national championships in Rome, Ga. he needed someone to fill in and help with color commentary on their radio broadcast. So he put me on air.
  • He wrote emails on my behalf to a lot of places to get me on air.

I could probably go on for hours listing all of the things he did to help me out. He was just that type of person. A servant leader. He always told me to hire people that could make my job easier and that were smarter than me. It’s an easy philosophy that I follow to this day with the latter not being too difficult.

“I’d like to think the three schools I’ve been at I’ve made positive changes,” Parker told 406mtsports.com in early 2020. “I won awards because I worked with good people, and I believe that.”

All those good people he worked with miss him. All of those good people respect what he did for them. And all of those good people will love him for long after his passing last summer. Rest easy my friend.

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