Diane Turnham

Mt. Juliet native Diane Cummings Turnham

Diane Cummings Turnham is a 1976 graduate of Mt. Juliet High School where she played basketball for Larry Inman. She went on to play collegiately at Volunteer State Community College and at Lipscomb University.

Former head volleyball coach and assistant basketball coach at Middle Tennessee State, she has worked at MTSU for some 37 years.

In 2012 Turnham was inducted into the Blue Raider Hall of Fame. TB

MURFREESBORO -- The NCAA Division I women's basketball committee spent months and countless hours pouring over information, data, watching games and doing diligence to make sure the most deserving teams were amongst the field for the 2020 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament.

Middle Tennessee Senior Associate Athletics Director and Wilson County native Diane Turnham was in her fifth year on the committee and was its chairperson – a distinct honor for those who serve.

Due to threats of Covid-19, this committee was unable to complete its mission as the NCAA canceled both the men's and women's tournament amidst growing concerns regarding the coronavirus.

Turnham, along with several other committee members, was already in Indianapolis prepared to meet and select and seed the field of 64 when the news came.

"It was an incredible, empty feeling to just be sitting there so lost," Turnham said.

"You hear it and you just don't believe it, but when you have the health of a nation at stake, you can't take any situations for granted."

Immediately, there was a terrible feeling that consumed the room.

Turnham remembers her first thoughts and it had nothing to do with the committee not being able to fulfill its responsibilities after putting in an abundance of work.

"I felt so sorry for the student-athletes and the coaches who have worked hard all year preparing for the NCAA Tournament," Turnham said.

"To realize it just wasn't going to be was just overwhelming to think about. I thought about the players I've been watching all season and the fact they were not going to be able to compete. It was a very sad time for them and for me."

The news did not catch the committee by surprise due to what had been unfolding leading up to the time they were converging in Indianapolis.

Plans to alter the event were in place even before the NCAA decision to cancel the tournaments came down.

"We were to meet at 4:30 (March 12)," Turnham said. "Before we traveled to Indianapolis we had already heard that fans probably would not be allowed into the arenas for the (NCAA Tournament).

"As we prepared to travel we were under the impression there would be a tournament, but without fans. You hated it for the fans but at least the ladies were going to be able to play."

As the committee members started to gather it was becoming even more apparent the tournament was in jeopardy.

"During our travels more and more conference tournaments were being canceled," Turnham said.

"Professional sports were suspending its seasons. The more this was happening the clearer it was becoming that the tournament would not take place. The NCAA worked extremely close with the World Health Organization and took the (Covid-19) issue very seriously."

Turnham said committee members arrived in Indianapolis with every intent to begin the selection process.

"We were very prepared and ready to go," Turnham said. "We had continued our work. We were excited about this tournament all season because there was a great deal of parity in college women's basketball. As we got closer to making some of those last few decisions, last four in, last four out, it was clear that a lot of teams produced quality resumes. There was going to be some tough decisions."

The committee would not have to make those tough decisions.

Turnham would not have to face the grueling interviews on national television after the NCAA Selection Show justifying why certain teams were left out and others were included, or why teams were seeded accordingly.

Turnham, however, was looking forward to that moment and justifying the work of the 10-person 2019-20 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee.

"We were well prepared," Turnham said.  "Most of the (10 committee members) were there but a couple were not able to make it due to travel issues. They were driving in. We were all disappointed. We all just sat and looked at each other (after the tournament was canceled). We didn't know what to do.

"You work hard to make sure you are ready to make the best decisions possible. It was difficult to let it all soak in. I was excited about the entire year.

"I had some incredible experiences being chair and having the opportunity to serve on the committee the last five years."

The ending, however, was bittersweet.

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