Former ACC champs Del Greco, Anderson dropped from tournament |

Former ACC champs Del Greco, Anderson dropped from tournament

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

The number of champions participating in the American Century Championship is shrinking.

Seven of the nine winners are scheduled to compete for the 20th ACC title Friday through Sunday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

NBC decided not to invite former NFL placekicker Al Del Greco to this year’s event. Del Greco, the 2000 champion, joins former Miami Dolphins’ defensive back Dick Anderson on the sideline. Anderson, the 1994 tournament winner, hasn’t been invited since 2006.

“It’s something we spend a lot of time working on, and it’s not done carelessly,” said Jon Miller, NBC’s executive vice president of programming. “We try to keep the list as fresh as we can. Unfortunately, we are limited by the size of the field, because we don’t have a cut. It’s probably the toughest thing about this when you have to make some hard choices.”

Miller said NBC, which televised the final two rounds, handed out 110 invitations to the tournament this year and a record 92 stars accepted them.

“We’ve done a good job bringing in new guys every year. This year, we have Chuck Liddell, Penny Hardaway, Richard Dent, Shane Battier and Ozzie Smith,” Miller said.

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Last year, Anderson expressed disappointment at not being included in the nationally televised event.

“Needless to say, it’s disappointing to not be there, especially having been there 17 years in a row and having played fairly well most of the time,” Anderson said. “The hardest part, in all honesty, is when I get e-mails from people from Tahoe asking why I didn’t come. The hardest thing is explaining that you didn’t make the cut.”

Miller said that Anderson was left out because as an NFL player three decades ago, he hasn’t been in the limelight for a while.

“Dick was a great champion, but I think you have to bring in some newer, younger guys, and that’s what we keep doing,” Miller said.

“We’re charged with upgrading our list every year. We’re trying to get guys who are contemporary, who are well-known, active. It’s not an easy decision.”

Miller pointed to ESPN college basketball analyst Digger Phelps as a celebrity who has reinvited himself to retain star power.

“He hasn’t coached in a while, but he works hard in keeping his name out there. It’s not an automatic invite,” Miller said. “We encourage them to get their name out there, because at the end of the day, this is a television event. You want people to watch, and you want people when they watch to recognize the names of the players in the field.”

The elimination of Del Greco from the field upset caddie Robbie Nulty, who was on the bag when the former Tennessee Titans’ kicker won the title in 2000.

“I don’t understand their philosophy … to see two men disrespected like this,” said Nulty, a professional caddie for 26 years. “Those are people who made the tournament. I’m befuddled and hurt. Why can’t they have past champions in there?

“Al Del Greco is one of the most loved players out there. He’d do anything for any of those players.”

Other celebrities in the field know that their tournament invites will run out at some point.

“It will be a sad day if that day happens, and I’m hoping it doesn’t happen,” said former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, who won the first championship in 1990.”There’s no doubt there’s going to be athletes and people here five-10 years from now that are gonna warrant myself to step aside.”

Neil Lomax, a former quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, is one of only six celebrities to participate in the past 19 championships. He, too, understands that NBC could pull his annual invitation at any point.

“I don’t take it for granted,” he said. “I feels it’s a privilege and an honor if I’m invited. If I am, I take advantage. If I’m not, it’s time for somebody else.”