By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008
Mike Tranghese will step down as Big East commissioner in June 2009 following a 19-year tenure in which the conference evolved into a 16-team basketball behemoth and an eight-team emerging power in football.
"I'm not sick, I haven't been forced out and I'm not going to take another job," Tranghese said during a conference call yesterday. "I thought the time was right. The league is in such great shape."
Tranghese, 64, has been with the Big East since its inception in 1979 and replaced the league's first commissioner, Dave Gavitt, in 1990. He also served as the chairman of the NCAA men's basketball tournament committee and as the lead administrator of the Bowl Championship Series.
"He's been a true consensus-builder. That's evident by keeping 16 institutions moving in one direction in a united front," Georgetown Athletic Director Bernard Muir said. "This will be a major challenge to replace him, no question, because he's had such an impact on the league and on college athletics at large. . . . It's going to take a really dynamic personality to do so, and to do so as well as Mike has."
The presidents of the conference schools will determine the selection process for the next commissioner, and Tranghese suggested they seek out someone who is aware of both the history and the complexity of the league.
"I think you need to understand how this league got from where it was to where we are now," he said. "Bringing someone in completely from the outside, I don't know how they would successfully maneuver a league as complex as this, because of the diversity and the fact that we have football schools and basketball schools."
Tranghese certainly understood that. When he was hired as the league's first full-time employee in 1979, the Big East was a basketball-only conference consisting of seven East Coast schools. It had grown to nine teams by the time Tranghese became commissioner in June 1990, and over the next 10 years it added five more teams and began league play in football (1991).
In 2005, the conference was rocked when three of its cornerstones in football -- Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College -- left to join the ACC. Tranghese said his proudest accomplishment is the way that the league weathered those losses and survived when "a lot of people wrote us off for dead." The Big East added three football-playing schools -- Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida -- which allowed it to hold on to its BCS berth, and also brought in Marquette and DePaul.
Since then, the Big East has thrived in football and men's basketball. In its past three BCS games, the Big East representative has beaten the champions of the Southeastern Conference, ACC and Big 12, and Tranghese considers West Virginia's victory over favored Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl to be a seminal moment of his tenure. In 2006 and 2008, the conference placed a record eight teams into the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
There was once talk of splitting the league into two, with the football schools on one side and the basketball schools on another, but Tranghese said that no longer is a concern.
Tranghese doesn't know what he'll do once he leaves the Big East; he may teach, or try to work in either marketing or television. He said that the thing he'll miss the most are the games, particularly the prime seats he got as commissioner.
"I'm a little Italian kid from Springfield, Mass., who couldn't play. I was a manager," Tranghese said. "And I got to be commissioner of the Big East Conference for 19 years. It's a fairy tale."