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Tranghese vents against ACC

by Ralph J. Gaston

FOR THE EXPONENT TELEGRAM

PONTE VERDA, Fla -- In 1991, Miami hitched itself to the Big East in what seemed to be a wonderful marriage.

However, in the past few weeks the Hurricanes have been welcoming advances from the Atlantic Coast Conference that could put their old union in danger.

On Monday, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese spoke passionately about the conference he helped create -- and the union he wants desperately to preserve.

"We were there when no one else wanted Miami," Tranghese said. "Now we're going to end it, and damage the people that extended this opportunity? I just find that to be unacceptable, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter what I feel."

Tranghese's Monday afternoon press conference was well attended, with many of the conference's athletic directors and basketball coaches among the gallery.

The commissioner's comments ran the gamut of topics under debate during the Big East meetings, including the state of the Big East, the ACC's courtship of three of it's teams and how key the University of Miami is to the deal.

"I would think that no one wants this thing to go on and on," Tranghese said. "The University of Miami is going to make a decision, and that decision is going to drive the wagon."

He did take the time to point out the successes of his young league.

"I know where we were in football in 1990," Tranghese said. "There isn't one of you in this room that could have said to me that 13 years later, we would have won two national championships and had a seat at the table of the BCS."

Tranghese does not believe that level of success would be duplicated by a move to the ACC.

"I've read this notion about the ACC having domination of the eastern seaboard," Tranghese said. "That's a marketing concoction that has no validity. If you think people in New York City are going to come to see Clemson play Boston College at Madison Square Garden, you're sadly mistaken."

The ACC's notion of an extra at-large BCS bid being created with the destruction of the Big East also came under scrutiny.

"The BCS is already facing equity issues from other schools," said Tranghese, the BCS chairman for five years. "This move would only exacerbate the political pressure on the BCS committee."

With money at the center of the conflict between the conferences, Tranghese seemed compelled to discuss the Big East's lagging television revenues.

"When we negotiated our last (TV) contract, we were coming off our worst seasons, in a marketplace with no options," Tranghese said. "We've done a great amount of work in the last four years, so we could get to the point where we could negotiate and get our fair share."

To date, the athletic directors from the three -- Boston College, Syracuse and Miami -- have continued working in good faith with their peers.

"I wouldn't say we're leaning one way or another," Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo said. "I think we were charged with coming here to engage in meaningful dialogue and to take all our information back to our presidents."

The AD's also made sure to stress that they have not yet hosted an official visit nor have they been formally offered a place in the ACC.

"I haven't spoken to anyone about a visit," Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee said. "They may have spoken to the president (Shalala) about it, and I won't know that until I talk to her later today."

While he would not comment on specifics of the Big East's plans, only saying that most reports to date have been "pretty much on target," Tranghese did have strong comments about the ACC's raid of his conference.

"I've heard how what happens to us is an unintended consequence," Tranghese said. "It's not an unintended consequence; it's there, they see it, and I don't sense one iota of concern about it."

Tranghese also made sure to re-direct the media spotlight to the group he felt ultimately responsible.

"Educational institutions and intercollegiate athletics are supposed to be controlled by presidents," Tranghese said. "That's what I've been told for the last 10 years, presidential control. John Swofford isn't doing this, the AD's aren't doing this. Their presidents are making this decision. And when presidents begin to act this way with other presidents, I think it's wrong."

Tranghese also made a point of distancing his conference's past expansions from the ACC's current attempt.

"I don't want to hear about previous pieces of expansion," Tranghese said. "People were not damaged. Penn State, Miami and Florida State were all independents. Arkansas was part of a conference (SWC) that was already going through the process of breaking up. This situation should not be compared to it, because there is no other situation like this in the history of intercollegiate athletics."

The commissioner also spoke of a prior study of Big East expansion that included Florida State that was discontinued due to the harm it would have caused the ACC.

The abrupt departure of Boston College, Syracuse and Miami, would cause in Tranghese's words "the most disastrous blow to intercollegiate athletics in my lifetime."

Five football schools, including West Virginia and Virginia Tech, would be left in the uncertain world of independent football, where only Notre Dame, with it's television contracts and sweetheart bowl deal with the Big East, has been able to thrive.

"This act will basically limit the playing field at the highest levels of college football," Tranghese said. "How do I tell Virginia Tech that they don't deserve to be in a conference that will have automatic access (to a BCS bid)?" Tranghese said.

For Connecticut, who has invested heavily in preparations for their first season as a Division I-A football team this fall, the risk may be even greater.

"They've undertaken a great expenditure to start up football, based on a variety of things," Tranghese said. "Now the things they were basing it would no longer exist."

Connecticut men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun remained optimistic.

"We will play football. We will play basketball. We'll play in a very good league," he said. "I'd like to see us stay with our brethren of the last 24, 25 years, but if that's not the case, then it's not the case and we'll move on."

With no decision expected before Wednesday's final meetings, Tranghese has two more days to meet with conference athletic directors before some hard decisions must be made.

"We've won two men's basketball championships in the last five years, we've won four consecutive women's basketball championships, which no other conference has ever done, and our football teams have finished either first or second for the last four years," said Tranghese. "We're supposed to accept the fact that we aren't supposed to be a player? That's just an unacceptable conclusion from our perspective."