Five days before the revamped Big East debuts, the conference still does not have an office in a physical sense. Instead, its building blocks reside in the iPhone of its commissioner, Val Ackerman, whose hiring was announced Wednesday.
But Ackerman, 53, is old hand at the hard work of launching a start-up, having shepherded in the WNBA from concept to reality in the late 1990s. And it was that experience, along with her love of basketball, executive skills and legal acumen, that drew presidents of the 10-member Big East to her.
“We believe we have selected the consummate 21st-century basketball executive for the consummate 21st-century conference,” Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said Wednesday during a teleconference, shortly after Ackerman’s hiring was announced.
The Rev. Brian J. Shanley, president of Providence, hailed Ackerman as “the best basketball mind in the country” and someone whose passion for basketball “would do Dave Gavitt proud,” referencing the late architect of the original Big East, which linked urban schools with a rich basketball tradition together in a made-for-television league.
Though Ackerman’s lead time is limited, she expressed confidence that the league would launch in an orderly, effective fashion.
She noted that the work of scheduling fall sports has been accomplished under the guidance of former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, who was brought in to jump-start the planning process in March and will stay on “in the near term.”
The next order of business, Ackerman said, was locating short-term office space, likely in Midtown Manhattan, while searching for a long-term home befitting the new league, which consists of former members DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s and Seton Hall and new members Butler, Creighton and Xavier.
Also pressing: Scheduling winter sports — basketball chief among them, given that the sport is the league’s calling-card.
Asked about the timetable for expanding beyond those 10 teams, Ackerman applied the brakes “for the foreseeable future.”
“Right now we love 10,” she said. “Ten is a great number. We have no immediate plans to go beyond it. We have so much on our plate right now that expansion isn’t even on the radar screen with all the other things we need to do to get the conference up and running. That’s where we’re going to be for the foreseeable future.”
Hiring Ackerman, a standout basketball player at Virginia and former staff attorney for the NBA, was the first major decision by the 10 Big East presidents, who met as a group for the first time in March.
While Wednesday’s call was short on specifics, Ackerman made clear that she expects the Big East to be a leader in women’s basketball as well, adding that “all sports matter.”
She pledged to ensure that the Big East was a key player in NCAA decisions about men’s and women’s basketball, and she alluded to a desire to extend the Big East brand globally, presumably by holding occasional games overseas.
“The 35th anniversary of the conference is looming in 2014,” Ackerman noted. “We plan to build on those values but know we have to adapt to the times and be open to new ideas.”