Longtime Commissioner and NCAA Committee veteran to enter Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on June 22
NATCHITOCHES, La. – Longtime Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett, a Louisiana Tech alumnus who also was a Sun Belt Conference administrator, is the 2024 winner of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award presented by the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
Burnett spent over 19 years in the Southland’s top post, and capped his tenure with the league as the 2022 chairman of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee that runs March Madness culminating with the Final Four. On June 22 at the Hall of Fame’s 2024 Induction Ceremony in Natchitoches, the West Monroe High School graduate will become the 23rd recipient of the Dixon Award since its inception in 2005, and will be enshrined in the Hall.
The Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award has been presented annually by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s 40-member Hall of Fame selection committee to an individual who has played a decisive role as a sports leader or administrator benefiting Louisiana and/or bringing credit to Louisiana on the national and international level.
It is named in honor of the 1999 LSHOF inductee, an entrepreneur and innovator who is credited as the key figure in bringing an NFL franchise to New Orleans, and the development of the Caesars Superdome, highlighting an array of sports-related endeavors.
Burnett’s selection was announced Thursday morning by Louisiana Sports Writers Association president Raymond Partsch III and Doug Ireland, the longtime chairman of the Hall of Fame. Burnett emerged from a ballot showcasing 26 noteworthy nominees for the Dixon Award.
Burnett, who majored in journalism at Louisiana Tech, began his athletics administration career as a student sports information assistant. Under the tutelage of Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame sports information director Keith Prince, Burnett worked primarily with Louisiana Tech’s football, men’s basketball and baseball programs, and became Tech’s assistant SID briefly following graduation. In the summer of 1986, Burnett was selected as a recipient of the LSWA’s Ace Higgins Scholarship, annually awarded to the top student SID in the state.
After working with Tech’s basketball team that advanced to the second round of the 1989 NCAA Tournament, he took a communications position with the American South Conference, headquartered in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie.
Burnett continued in the lead communications role as the American South merged into the Sun Belt Conference as that Tampa, Fla.-based league relocated in 1991 to the New Orleans area, its home ever since. Before the Sun Belt grew into a football-based conference, his duties expanded to include oversight of numerous championships, including track and field, baseball and basketball.
Moving up the ladder to associate commissioner, Burnett was involved with local Sugar Bowl game operations and served on local New Orleans host committees for Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, and a number of NCAA basketball postseason events, including Men’s and Women’s Final Fours in the Crescent City. In 2001, Burnett was part of Commissioner Wright Waters’ team that brought league-wide football sponsorship into the Sun Belt for the first time, helped develop the New Orleans Bowl, and the conference’s first football-based television agreement with ESPN.
In late 2002, Burnett was selected to become the seventh commissioner of the Southland Conference, based in the north Dallas suburbs. He began a record tenure of almost 20 years as Southland commissioner, moved the headquarters to sports-centric Frisco, and expanded membership through Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. He also restructured and resumed the long-running neutral-site Southland Conference Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament, started the league’s first comprehensive corporate sponsorship program, and negotiated numerous television agreements, including the 2020 ESPN Networks deal, the Southland’s first multi-million dollar broadcast contract.
He led the community effort in 2010 that attracted the NCAA’s Division I FCS Football Championship Game to Frisco’s Toyota Stadium, an event with an annual sellout now in its record 14th year at the same location. While at the Southland, Burnett also served on 10 various NCAA committees, councils and task forces, highlighted by a five-year term from 2017-22 on the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee.
During the later stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, he served as vice chair of the committee during the NCAA Tournament’s “controlled environment” event in Indianapolis, Ind., and led the administrative and selection processes as the committee chairman when March Madness returned to its traditional national playing sites in 2022, capped by overseeing operations at the Men’s Final Four held at the Superdome.
In 2022, Burnett departed the conference office and started a new sports consulting and events firm, Southwest Sports Partners, LLC, that strives to provide its partner clients, sports participants and communities with the highest level of strategic athletics consulting services and successful event experiences. Burnett has recently founded Lone Star Name, Image and Likeness, an exclusively Texan NIL opportunity for in-state student-athletes attending any of the 116 universities and colleges in Texas.
A longtime member of the National Football Foundation/College Football Hall of Fame’s Awards Committee, he was honored with the NFF’s Legacy Award in 2022, and in 2023 was presented a Distinguished Alumni Award by West Monroe High School.
Burnett will be among the 12-member 2024 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Class headlined by nine “competitive ballot” inductees announced in September.
The Class of 2024 is headlined by a star-studded group of nine inductees from the LSHOF “competitors ballot,” led by national sports celebrities Drew Brees, Seimone Augustus and Daniel Cormier.
Brees, the New Orleans Saints’ NFL record-setting passer and Super Bowl XLIV MVP, brings incredible credentials. He’s not alone at the top of his game: joining him in the Class of 2024 are two homegrown greats -- Augustus, a Baton Rouge native who is one of women’s basketball’s all-time best, and Cormier, the Lafayette born-and-raised Olympic wrestler who became and remains one of the top figures in MMA.
The Class of 2024 also includes 1992 Olympic wrestling gold medalist Kevin Jackson, a former LSU All-American, along with Perry Clark, who guided Tulane basketball to unprecedented success in the 1990s, and McNeese football great Kerry Joseph, who had a 19-year pro career.
Also elected for induction in June are high school football coach Frank Monica, who won state titles at three different south Louisiana schools, and Ray Sibille, a Breeders’ Cup-winning thoroughbred jockey from Sunset who ranks among the nation’s elite riders.
This year’s class also includes Grambling’s Wilbert Ellis, who becomes the second-ever recipient of the Louisiana Sports Ambassador Award. During his 43-year baseball coaching career and since, Ellis has made local, statewide and national impact not only in his sports field but also in other endeavors.
Also inducted as winners of the LSWA’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism will be widely-respected south Louisiana sportswriters Bobby Ardoin and Ron Higgins.
The 2024 Induction Class will be celebrated June 20-22 in Natchitoches and showcased in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum, operated by the Louisiana State Museum system in a partnership with the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. The striking $23 million, two-story, 27,500-square foot structure faces Cane River Lake in the National Historic Landmark District of Natchitoches and has garnered worldwide architectural acclaim and rave reviews for its contents since its grand opening during the 2013 Hall of Fame induction weekend.
The Dixon Award was not presented in the 2023 induction cycle. The 2022 recipient was Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation president Jay Cicero, a Shreveport native whose three decades of leadership in the Crescent City has been filled with major sports events and abundant community service by the foundation.
The 2021 Dixon Award winner was retired NFL referee Terry McAulay, a Hammond native and LSU graduate. McAulay, now the rules analyst for NBC’s Sunday Night Football, is one of a handful of referees to work three Super Bowls.
The 2020 recipient was Joan Cronan, an Opelousas native and LSU graduate who became one of the most respected administrators in collegiate athletics as women’s athletics director, and then overall athletics director, at the University of Tennessee.
Other past Dixon Award recipients include the 2018 winner, Steve Gleason, the former New Orleans Saints player who has become globally acknowledged as one of the world’s leading advocates for people diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
In 2008, the Dixon Award went to world-renowned orthopedic Dr. James Andrews, a Homer native, LSU graduate and SEC champion pole vaulter.
Paul Hoolahan, executive director and chief executive officer of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic for 23 years, was presented the 2015 Dixon Award.
The 2016 winner was world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes, a Natchitoches native and LSU graduate who has become a leading figure in the field of sports-related concussion research and treatment.
Sue Donohoe, who served as the NCAA’s vice president for women’s basketball for 12 years, and also directed the men’s basketball NCAA Division I championship, was the 2017 recipient.
The 2024 LSHOF Induction Celebration is slated to kick off Thursday, June 20, with a press conference and reception. The three-day festivities include two receptions, a youth sports clinic, a bowling party, a Saturday luncheon and a Friday night riverbank concert in Natchitoches. Tickets for the Saturday night, June 22 Induction Ceremony, along with congratulatory advertising and sponsorship opportunities, are available through the LaSportsHall.com website.
Adding to the 384 sports competitors currently enshrined, 22 winners of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership award and 73 recipients of the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism, there are 479 current members of the Hall of Fame.
The Induction Celebration weekend will be hosted by the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Foundation, the support organization for the Hall of Fame. The LSHOF Foundation was established as a 501 c 3 non-profit entity in 1975 and is governed by a statewide board of directors. For information on sponsorship opportunities, contact Foundation President/CEO Ronnie Rantz at 225-802-6040 or RonnieRantz@LaSportsHall.com. Standard and customized sponsorships are available.
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