By Dave Sittler, Tulsa World
THERE MIGHT NOT be another person associated with college sports who has been unfairly vilified more the past two years than Bill Hancock.Remember the Ten Tribute - click HERE
As executive director of the BCS, Hancock has had some of the nastiest, crude, degrading epithets imaginable attached to his name. They've been hurled at him by everyone from caustic media critics and talk-radio blowhards to anonymous e-mailers and sports bar drunks.
The sad fact none of those college football fanatics understand is that the only word that could pierce Hancock's heart and damage his soul doesn't exist.
Society long ago gave us widow and widower for those who have lost spouses, while orphan works for anyone who has lost both parents. But, to my knowledge, no one has come up with a universally accepted way to describe a parent who has lost a child.
Thursday will be the 10th anniversary of when Hancock and his wife, Nikki, became members of that heartbroken, nameless fraternity. The older of their two sons, Will Hancock, was among the 10 men associated with Oklahoma State's basketball program who died in a plane crash on Jan. 27, 2001.
"I think about Will every day," Bill wrote in an e-mail. "I dream about him too - always happily until it's time for him to leave. I try to persuade him to stay but he says he's sorry. Then he just disappears."
Neither sticks nor stones or even profanity-laced rhetoric can penetrate Hancock's private emotions. But many have tried as they curse the man who they feel is responsible for holding them hostage from having a Division I FBS playoff.
Hancock, one of the kindest, gentlest souls ever conceived, is actually just the front man for the BCS membership. One of the job requirements as the face of the BCS is absorbing the verbal and written abuse from angry fans.
"I must admit that, at first, I was surprised by the road rage from a few anti-BCS people. But it never hurt me," Hancock wrote. "Someone orchestrated several people into a campaign of e-mail ugliness toward me one Thanksgiving Day.
"I felt sorry for their families. Those strangers didn't know our perspective."
The smear campaign came during the holiday closely associated with family. Bill and Nikki Hancock once upon a time had a Norman Rockwell-type family, two bright, well-educated, extremely talented adult sons, who were happily married and expanding the Hancock family tree with grandchildren.
One seat has remained at the Hancocks' Thanksgiving table for the past decade. Will's widow, Karen, and their daughter fill in the best they can.
"I wish I could help them understand the simplest, most valuable lesson," Bill wrote of the BCS critics. "Life is so precious, so cherish every moment of every relationship. Hug the ones who are dear to you."
Will Hancock was the 31-year-old associate sports information director for basketball at OSU when he perished in that plane crash. He departed for a game at Colorado brimming with confidence about what the future held for him, Karen and 6-month-old daughter Andie.
His wise-beyond-his-years personality and impeccable work ethic are what made Will Hancock such a respected figure in the media's eyes. He always responded like a seasoned pro whenever he needed to maintain that delicate balance of civility between the media and the team.
A part of Bill's initial grief has never left. A member of a newspaper family from Hobart who had worked as an SID at his alma mater, Oklahoma, and in jobs for the Big Eight and NCAA offices, Bill knew his son's potential.
"I know he would have achieved big things in life. He was so smart, and so kind and so diligent," Bill wrote. "I like to think he would be an assistant commissioner of a conference today, or an athletic director. ...
"Certainly he'd be a great father to his daughter."
Andie Hancock is now a fourth-grader in the Stillwater school system. She will be at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Wednesday night along with her mother and grandparents when OSU remembers the 10.
Bill remains deeply grateful to the many OSU people who helped his family during those shocking, horrible days in January 2001.
He wrote that former president Jim Halligan, former athletic director Terry Don Phillips, assistant AD Dave Martin and assistant basketball coach Kyle Keller "devoted every ounce of their souls to seeing us through the first months after the tragedy."
Bill somehow summoned the strength to deliver a remarkable eulogy at Will's memorial service, which was attended by coaches and athletic officials throughout the Big 12 and NCAA.
"We saw the very best of human nature as people from all walks of life gave us comfort," wrote Bill, who recalled that "(Sooner AD) Joe Castiglione saw a need and began handing out programs at Will's funeral.
"I'm a Sooner, of course, but OSU is truly a special place."
The love for all the families forever affected by the crash remains strong and is demonstrated in many ways. Big 12 associate commissioner Tim Allen, who handles the conference's scheduling, made sure OSU had a home game this particular Wednesday so the school could honor the 10 on a day close to the date they were lost.
Bill and Nikki Hancock will make the trip from their Kansas home to Stillwater to participate in various events planned for the families before OSU's game with Texas, during halftime and at a gathering afterward.
"We have walked every step of this path along with the other families, and with everyone who has dealt with grief," Bill Hancock wrote. "I know Wednesday's event will be appropriate, like everything OSU has done.
"It will be helpful to spend such a significant evening with people who remember, who know, and who care. We are not alone."
Bill Hancock will be surrounded by people who understand there is more to life than the BCS. People who will use words like "love, loyal and faithful" to describe a parent who experienced the indescribable: the loss of a child.