Final Four was 'crowning moment' for faculty athletic rep
When the WSU men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Final Four tournament in Atlanta earlier this year, Martin Perline cheered the Shockers on from the stands.
For Perline, then the faculty representative to athletics, it was a moment 38 years in the making.
But, it almost didn’t happen.
Perline, who resigned from being faculty athletic representative in June, says two years ago he ran the idea of retiring from the position past former President Don Beggs.
Beggs was stepping down. Perline had just finished up as Missouri Valley Conference president. After 36 years, it seemed like the end of an era and a good time for a changeover, he says.
“All the planets were aligned in the right way to say this was a good time to do it if you’re going to do it,” he says.
But, Beggs asked him to stay on for a while longer, allowing a new president to choose his successor.
He stayed another two years, and as a result, traveled with the Shockers through the Elite 8, and finally to the Final Four.
“There’s not a whole lot of perks,” Perline says about being the faculty athletic representative. “One perk is to go to tournaments. After doing this for 38 years, we were never in the Final Four before. This last year was a nice sendoff.”
'A crowning moment'
For Perline and WSU Athletics, it was a crowning moment. But, he says his tenure as the faculty athletics representative was not always filled with packed stands and wins.
When Perline took over the position in 1975, the 1970 plane crash that killed 14 WSU football teammates and 17 others was still a fresh wound. The football team was struggling to win and draw fans.
In fact, when Perline first got a call from the director of athletics, he thought he might be trying to sell him football tickets.
Instead, the director asked him to take on the position, which the president would make official in the fall if he were interested.
Perline, an economics professor who considers himself a casual sports fan but “didn’t live and breathe sports,” asked how he’d been selected.
“You get too close to athletics, you may not be able to judge as you should,” he remembers former President Clark Ahlberg telling him.
He decided the position, which required him to act as a liaison between academics and athletics, sounded interesting enough to take on for a while.
It was a tenure that carried through some of the athletic program’s darkest days.
In 1982, the program became for a few years the most penalized school in NCAA history. Perline was called upon to help investigate major and minor violations, which left the Shockers on probation for three years.
“It was the worst semester I think I spent here,” Perline says. “We did the best and most honest job we could do. I think there were some hard feelings that came from that, but there was not much you could about it.”
However, he says he’s proud that the team has avoided any major violations since then.
He also saw the dismantling of the football team in 1986, which he says was a wise decision.
“I think it would be nice, and I think most people would like to have football back,” he says. “It’s economic reality that we can’t afford to be very successful at it. You’d be pulling money from other sports.”
Through ups and downs
Perline has also served as Missouri Valley Conference president at least five times, though he himself has lost count of how many exactly.
MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin says Perline holds the conference’s record for serving the most presidential terms. Perline brought common sense, a sense of humor and a strong financial background to the job, he says.
“He’s had a role through membership change, the growth and development of championships, and in the overall rise of our conference,” Elgin says. “A lot of people say, ‘This guy is going to be missed.’ We really mean it when it comes to Marty.”
Perline’s wife Donna says he never expected the job would last 38 years, but it has been a long and interesting ride.
Through ups and downs, the couple has tried to make it to at least one event for most sports each season. They’ve seen many losses as well as wins, she says.
But, she says the chance to see a sea of black and gold in Atlanta, and dedicated WSU fans and athletes given an opportunity for a Final Four visit, was a “once in a lifetime” reward.
“Our fans are fabulous,” she says. “I think that’s what kind of energizes Marty and me, because we see the fan base that’s here. Those are the kinds of moments that make it all worth the work that you’ve gone through.”