MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Wednesday was really the first day in the rebirth of the Big East Conference in the eyes of Michael A. Tranghese, Big East commissioner since 1991 who is now overseeing the country’s most powerful basketball league.
|Big East commisioner Michael A. Tranghese entertains questions during the conference's basketball media day at Madison Square Garden in New York. |
Sixteen teams covering nearly the entire Eastern portion of the country and parts of the Midwest now make up a basketball conference that rivals any ever created. Seven of the 16 teams have NCAA championship banners hanging from their rafters, and all but one of the current members have made at least one Final Four appearance. Six teams were ranked in last year’s final USA Today Coaches Poll and at least that many should be ranked when the preseason polls come out in a few weeks.
Tranghese, a 1965 graduate of St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vt., has weathered the storm created when the ACC lured top football programs Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College away from the Big East to create a made-for-TV football championship game. Tranghese admits he wasn’t sure the Big East would continue to exist.
“Our football schools had determined their future and they made the decision to depart,” Tranghese told Seth Davis during an interview with CSTV Wednesday morning. “So we basically operated for a three to four week period where the conference was going to go away. I had begun to focus on how are we going to operate in the final two years, how we were going to dissolve our assets and what we were going to do with employees? It wasn’t a fun time.”
But eventually the football schools decided it was impractical to separate from the league and ultimately entrusted Tranghese with the assignment of making it work.
“Our presidents came to the conclusion that they were going to be better served by having the conference stay together,” Tranghese said. “We had developed a plan which we had in the event that they arrived at that point and we a laid it out and moved aggressively.
“Now here we are.”
Even today while basking in the glow of the praise that comes from assembling the best basketball conference in the country, Tranghese still has problems to deal with. Namely, how do you account for a 16-member league that only sends 12 teams to its conference tournament?
“I told the coaches that after we do this for two years that if they want to bring it back to our presidents and have a conversation that I would not prevent it,” Tranghese said. “But I think the logistics of trying to run a 16-team tournament raises so many problems.
“The thing that bothers me about bringing in all 16 is that your best teams are going to have to play four games within a week and possibly four days in a row,” Tranghese said. “I just don’t think that will work with a group of teams that are trying to compete for the national championship.”
Sixteen teams also makes for scheduling problems. Because of present television agreements, all 16 teams don’t meet during the regular season. The coaches, athletic directors and presidents have informed Tranghese that they would like to see that corrected when the existing TV deal expires in two years.
Presently, ESPN and CBS have stipulated that certain games be played twice and those games are reviewed on an annual basis. West Virginia is one of the teams this year that has benefited from repeat games by facing Cincinnati, Pitt and Georgetown in appealing television match-ups.
“When we negotiate our new television contracts we’ll adopt a new scheduling format,” Tranghese said. “It’s hard to be in a conference when you’re not going to play this team -- it’s just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Getting deserving teams into the NCAA tournament is another challenge emanating from a 16-team monstrosity. Tranghese, being a past chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee, has gained expertise in the selection process and he’s already counseled each coach on what it’s going to take to make the tournament.
“What I’m telling our coaches is you’re not going to get into the tournament because you’re in the Big East Conference,” Tranghese said. “The Big East Conference will afford you the opportunity to get in. You’re still going to have to abide by the formula that gets people in. You’ve got to beat good teams in the league and you’ve got to win some non-conference games. I don’t think the formula is going to change."
What could change is the cap on the number of teams from the same conference getting into the tournament. During Tranghese’s first year as Big East commissioner in 1991, seven of the nine teams made the NCAA tournament. That number could be as high as eight or nine this year.
“We’re walking down historic ground. Who knows?” Tranghese said. “I’m convinced after talking with members of the committee that they’ve reasserted what their challenge is: to take the best 34 at-large teams.
“If you can get seven in a nine-team league, the number could be higher with 16 but I don’t know what that number is,” he said.Considering where the conference was just a couple of years ago, these are all good problems for Mike Tranghese to deal with.