Mike Tranghese has seen the world of college athletics from the inside–as the long time commissioner of the Big East–and from the outside–as a consultant.
What he saw from the inside amazed him. What he sees from the outside saddens him.
When contacted by a jerseyguy.com at his Florida home on Monday night, Tranghese, who was part of the Big East when it was founded by Dave Gavitt in 1979 and retired as its commissioner in 2009, said the latest configuration move by the Big Ten adding Maryland and Rutgers was symptomatic of a mind-set driven by University presidents obsessed by a bottom line mentality.
“There is so much money out there it is driving people to make decisions to make more and more money without regard to the unintended consequences. It’s sad for me because I grew up as an idealist about intercollegiate athletics. But more and more I’ve become disillusioned by what is happening. I don’t understand it. We’re all ravaging each other.
Tranghese says he has been characterized by some as a basketball conference commissioner with little regard or understanding of college football.
“I love college football” he said. “It’s a great sport, with a great tradition. And football is the driving force behind all of this. But it is a sport that is being damaged by all of these changes”’
Tranghese was in the middle of the battle when the Big East decided to form a football league in 1991. He was in the middle of the battle five years later when a debate within the Big East threatened to break apart the conference into separate football and basketball conferences.
“It was something I recommended that we do,” said Tranghese, “I saw the direction we were heading and I thought it would be the best way for us to resolve some of the conflicts that were developing.”
The conference, driven by the lure of bigger football money, chose to stay together, often working as a disfunctional family, but still managing to stay together.
Tranghese was in the middle of the battle seven years later when the Atlantic Coast Conference made a pre-emptive move to expand and eventually grabbed Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami.
Tranghese had stepped down by last season when the Big East was hit again when Syracuse and Pittsburgh jumped to the ACC and West Virginia moved to the Big 12.
And he is watching again as Rutgers makes a switch to the Big Ten and UConn and Louisville are poised to pack their bags.
“The Big East has never done really anything wrong other than it never had powerful football schools and it has paid a heavy price,” said Tranghese. “What makes me even sadder is that there are some schools ou there who have done very little to contribute anything and they are getting rewarded. And there are some schools who have done nothing wrong and they are getting punished simply for being in the wrong place. That concept is hard for me to grasp.”
Tranghese knows who the power brokers are–right now the SEC and Big Ten and to some extent the Pac-12. But he also knows it wasn’t that long ago that the Big 12’s future was in jeopardy when the Pac-12 was considering adding Texas and Oklahoma,
“You look at some people who think they are O.K.’ said Tranghese. “Well they may not be OK for long. There is more change coming. ”
Tranghese looks at the ACC which appears rock solid despite the departure of Maryland and a strong core group of schools in football and in basketball, led by North Carolina and Duke and he refers to the Big 12’s angst when Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Missouri were all considering leaving.
“Look at what happened there and you look at basketball program as strong as Kansas has and you said there is no way they could be left out,” said Tranghese. “Well if Texas and Oklahoma had left, where was Kansas in that picture?”
Tranghese says he remembers attending an NCAA meeting with Gavitt in California in 1990 when then SEC commissioner Harvey Schiller was talking about the future of college athletics and was saying that there was going to come a time when there were only going to four or five super conferences.
“I remember walking away and telling Dave that Harvey was out of his mind,” said Tranghese. “You know, he was right. We are very close to having just that. If the Big 12 or Big Ten or Pac-12 want to target another ACC school, the ACC is going to feel what the Big East felt. It almost happened to Kansas when it appeared the Big 12 might disappear.””
Tranghese says that people are rationalizing their moves. “Everybody is doing what they think is right,” said Tranghese. “Some people want to criticize the commissioners. My quote on that is that the Presidents have been in charge since 1990. Ultimately they control all of this. They have endorsed all of these high salaries for coaches, buyouts. They have endorsed the expansion and the conference raiding. They do this with good intentions, but there are unintended consequences from their actions.”
© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.