Where has the Big East gone wrong in its quest to be a viable football conference?
Ask 100 people, and get a 100 answers. But one man in particular shared his thoughts on the topic with New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, thoughts that simply cannot be ignored.
Former commissioner Mike Tranghese believes the point of no return happened before the Big East was a viable football conference, back in 1989. At the time, Tranghese was working under Dave Gavitt, and the two men believed it was imperative to bring Penn State into the league. Membership voted no. St. John's, Villanova and Georgetown led the dissenters.
From the Times story:
At the end of the meeting, Gavitt asked Tranghese what he thought about the decision. “I said, ‘We will all rue the day about this decision,’ ” Tranghese said. “I understood how big football was. I didn’t understand how big it was going to become.
“At that point, the Big East had so much success in the ’80s, everybody sort of forgot about it. But I felt looking back on the history of the Big East, that was probably the biggest mistake we made.”
When Tranghese became commissioner in 1990, the league had no choice but to really go after football. At the time, conference presidents commissioned a study to look at the benefits of staying together or going their separate ways. Even Tranghese had misgivings about programs with different interests remaining as one league.
“I thought at that point, our league should have given very serious consideration to separating,” Tranghese told The Times. “From where I was sitting, the difficulty of keeping everything together — some people playing football, some people not playing football — was a challenge.”
So here we are today, 20 years later, and the same questions continue to vex the Big East:
How can a commissioner truly lead when he does not have the full backing of his membership?
How does this league function when there are such obvious factions between basketball and football?
The first question is one I have addressed several times on this blog in regard to current commissioner John Marinatto. To me, Tranghese's comments speak to the obtuseness of some presidents in the league, and their failure to think about the future, and the shifting landscape of college athletics. The same story line persisted then as it does today.
Tranghese seemed to understand the future ramifications of adding Penn State, and so did Gavitt -- a man who was a driving force in leading Big East basketball to the top. Neither one wanted to destroy basketball for the sake of football. There should be a way for them to coexist, but that clearly has not happened.
Now, Tranghese was in charge when the Big East was raided the first time in 2003. His role in what happened when Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech left is not addressed in the article. But when Tranghese retired, he knew more expansion was coming and, he said, "I just refused to sit there and go through it again."
There are those who might think that Tranghese is passing the buck. What exactly did he do to foster a cohesive Big East, or to prevent defections? He may have understood football had become a driving force, but even he was powerless to unify everybody. He clearly understood that if he knew the Big East would eventually get raided again.
But overall, I think Tranghese underscored once again why the Big East continues to be so dysfunctional. There is no uniform voice, and no uniform vision.
There are still basketball interests, and football interests that never seem to be one in the same.