Driving to and from Kansas City every working day might drive some locals batty, but not Prentice Gautt, the Big Eight Conference's easy-going, ever-upbeat associate commissioner.
"It's beautiful," Gautt says of the 45-minute rush-hour journey. "It gives me a chance to get organized. Coming back, I debrief and listen to the radio."
Many are unaware that Gautt, the Big Eight's second in command, has been making the round trip for two years now.
"I kind of keep a low profile," admits Gautt, a 54-year-old former University of Oklahoma and St. Louis Cardinals' standout running back.
Low profile or not, he and wife Sandy, KU's assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs, have made many friends here.
"We expected and received great treatment from the people. We've tried to reciprocate," Gautt said. "(Lawrence) is just right for us."
As much as he likes it here, Gautt spends a lot of time away from Lawrence.
HE VISITS EACH Big Eight campus at least twice per school year. Gautt is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge for coaches, administrators and academic officials.
"I get a chance to find out where the coaches are relative to rules and regulations, testing and certification," Gautt said.
"I talk to student athletes, financial aid, registrars and admissions people anybody that is in any way connected with intercollegiate athletics. At Iowa State, I talked to a committee involved in putting in academic criteria for student-athletes."
Talking to faculty members like those at ISU proves especially gratifying, Gautt said.
"It's being a liason," he said. "Members of the faculty sometimes have in mind a lot of stereotypes about the intercollegiate environment. When they get involved in the certification process and what happens in athletics, it helps bring down the walls."
Three years ago, Gautt instituted the league's drug testing policy. He showed up on every campus for the first rounds of tests.
"We started out testing for steroids. That was almost three years ago. The next year, we went to the full menu of banned drugs steroids and street drugs," Gautt explained.
"We want to make sure kids know we have a concern for them. We're not testing to, quote, catch them, but for them to see it as a concern. Also, we want as much a level playing field as we can get in the conference.
"GOSH, IT'S SO devastating," he said of drug use. "A lot of our young people today see their future only to the end of their noses."
He explained the Big Eight's drug testing procedure:
"We normally test 48 to 50 kids on a random basis," Gautt said. "We put names of all of the first 22 players (starters) in football in a hat. We draw 15 of those. We take all of men's track and draw four or five of those, the women the same. We limit it to a 24-hour alert.
"The Southwest Conference has a two-hour alert, but that's almost impossible for us. If we draw a name and the student-athlete is not there for the test, he's ineligible. These kids could be in competition away from campus. We look at their their schedules and make sure the majority will be there."
A Big Eight athlete found using steroids is suspended for a year. If an athlete is found using street drugs, institutional policies take effect. In most cases, that involves counseling for a first offense, possibly a suspension depending on each individual case.
Hired by former Big Eight commissioner Chuck Neinas, now the CFA's executive director, Gautt has been performing various duties since 1979, one year prior to the arrival of current commissioner Carl James.
Gautt, a University of Oklahoma graduate, was working at Missouri as academic counselor and coordinator when he was offered the Big Eight post of assistant commissioner.
"CHUCK asked me in 1974 whether I wanted to come to the conference office. At that time, I was working on my doctorate and told him I didn't want to put it before that," Gautt said. "Then in 1979, a person asked me to recommend him to Chuck. I called Chuck and told him about the individual. He (Neinas) asked me if I'd take it. I said maybe for a year. I wound up staying on.
"There have been some opportunities to move, but there's a tremendous challenge in the Big Eight, like there is across the nation, in terms of intercollegiate athletics," added Gautt, one of a select group appointed several years ago to rewrite the complicated NCAA manual. "I've learned a lot about people and politics. It's been exciting."
Maybe not as exciting as Gautt's athletic career.
The Pride of Oklahoma
Perhaps more than anybody else, Prentice Gautt broke the color barrier in the state of Oklahoma.
At Oklahoma City Douglass High School, Gautt was a member of the National Honor Society, president of the senior class, recipient of the citizen award for scholarship and the Douglass High all-around male student.
He's gone down in history as perhaps the top football player in school history.
During his junior and senior years, Douglass won 31 straight games against the major black schools in a five-state area. He was the first black player to compete in the prestigious state prep all-star game.
Gautt was selected only after two white fullbacks were injured in practice. With just two days practice, Gautt scored three touchdowns one on a 90-yard kickoff return.
A GROUP OF doctors and pharmacists in Oklahoma City named Gautt their recipient of a four-year academic scholarship. Sooner coach Bud Wilkinson, however, wanted Gautt on the football team.
In October of Gautt's freshman year, Wilkinson refunded the private money and gave Gautt an athletic scholarship.
As OU's first black gridder he played in 1957, '58, and '59 there were many problems to overcome. He couldn't eat in certain restaurants, couldn't stay in certain hotels.
Wilkinson made sure the Sooners stayed away from those places. He was a Gautt backer through and through.
"If not for Bud, I wouldn't have been able to make it at Oklahoma," said Gautt, who still stays in contact with Wilkinson. "He was sort of my psychologist. I was on the couch once a week, talking about things I as a youngster perceived may or may not have been true. He was very supportive. He seemed to understand me."
Gautt wasn't on any mission at OU. He was just a person who wanted to study hard and play football.
"At the time I was going through it, I thought of myself as one guy who was struggling. Not many were in my corner," he said.
GAUTT WOUND up the best fullback in the Big Eight his final two years, and he was a standout linebacker. In 1985, he was voted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame.
"There were many more positives than negatives at Oklahoma," Gautt said. "I can understand now why some people would have fear and misgivings and misunderstandings. It helps to be more mature."
In 1987, Gautt was awarded OU's distinguished service citation, the university's highest honor.
"Tears welled up. It was obvious I was caught up in the moment," Gautt said. "I had to stop talking. It was quite humbling."
Gautt holds no bitterness toward those who were prejudiced in the '50s.
"If you think with bitterness, that hurts you," he said. "I don't need to be bitter. I've got the rest of my life to be happy and enjoy myself. It would not serve me to be bitter. Life is too short."
To that end, Gautt tries to make sure he'll have a long life. He works out vigorously and stays in shape.
"WHEN I WORKED on the campus at Missouri, there was the opportunity to play racquetball and handball," he said. "I bought into a track, a stairstep master. I have a cholesterol problem. I want to make sure I do some perspiring and try to keep it down. I watch it."
He doesn't know what the future holds. He just knows he's happy to be working at the Big Eight and happy to be living here.
"I take it a day at a time," Gautt said. "I don't have any great expectations. I just want to do a job and do it the best I can."