Finding the new face of the Big East

Kevin Gorman
| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

Mike Tranghese presided over the Big East Conference evolution as it outgrew its origins as a basketball-only power and developed a football league that brought national credibility.

When the Atlantic Coast Conference raided the Big East five years ago by luring away Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, Tranghese fought to hold the conference together when many believed it was crumbling.

By convincing the presidents of its football-playing schools not to split from their basketball-only counterparts and by adding five new members, Tranghese turned the 16-team Big East into the nation's most formidable basketball conference while keeping Bowl Championship Series ties for the eight-team football league.

Now, with Tranghese set to retire in June, the Big East comes to another crossroads. Pitt chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, along with Georgetown president Dr. John J. DeGioia, will co-chair the conference's six-man search committee to find a replacement for Tranghese.

"In a sense, Mike really is irreplaceable," Nordenberg said. "He was with the conference from the beginning. He had a sense of the conference culture and a role in shaping the conference that no one else could possibly duplicate. But a lot of the good things that Mike brought to the job are now built into the conference, and they'll continue to exist even after he has left the position. We really need to find someone who is going to come in and build on his legacy."

The Big East's next commissioner will be charged with not only doing that, but keeping the conference intact and navigating it through future challenges. Finding a commissioner who can create a happy balance between the football and basketball schools will be a delicate decision.

That Nordenberg will play a pivotal role in determining that leader should come as no surprise, considering how he is credited with handling behind-the-scenes dealings when the Big East was in danger of dismantling.

"Mark, in addition to being very bright, is very thoughtful and very talented and he has this innate ability to know how all people think about a particular situation. It's a very, very unique quality," Tranghese said. "He has enormous respect from our members and that's why he's been named one of the co-chairs of the search committee. It's not just our football schools. It's our basketball schools. They really respect Mark. They know he's bright. They know he's fair. Mark's track record is impeccable.

"Everything he's touched has worked out."

Although the Big East is expected to hire internally - senior associate commissioner John Marinatto, associate commissioners Nick Carparelli Jr. and Dan Gavitt, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich and Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway have been mentioned as candidates - Nordenberg didn't dismiss the possibility of picking from outside the league.

"I think we'll be able to attract strong candidates for this position," Nordenberg said. "Of course, a commissioner's role in this day and age is a complicated one. You need to have the ability to work effectively with university leaders and athletic directors, and you have to be a very business-savvy person, in terms of television contracts and all of the other things that go into making a conference successful."

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