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Michael Tranghese, Jack Swarbrick, John Marinatto Sound Off

Written by Paul Zeise on .

We have all week to get to Pitt-Notre Dame and Tuesday afternoon I will put up the Good, Bad and Ugly from Iowa but for now, this conference stuff is just too good not to get to.

After a weekend of a lot of no comments, today we heard some very powerful voices and here is a summary of some of what was said along with my thoughts on what was said, as someone who has covered this league since about 1996 if you go back to my "Temple News" days (which you can find labeled ZEISE'S THOUGHTS)

*** First, the news of the day is this - Big East commissioner John Marinatto told Pete Thamel of the New York Times that the conference intends to hold Pitt and Syracuse to the 27-month exit period and if that holds true (I still think Pitt and Syracuse will get out of it earlier than that but let's play along) it means we won't see Pitt and Syracuse competing in the Big East until the 2014-15 season.Yes, I know 27 months is actually December 2013 but you can't start competing in a league halfway through the school  year.

Marinatto then went on to say that the conference will come out of this stronger, then took a direct shot at ACC commissioner John Swofford (who talked about playing the ACC Tournament at Madison Square Garden) with this gem....

"“We have a track record of coming out stronger than we did before,” Marinatto told Thamel. “We may even hold the opening round of our basketball tournament in Greensboro.”

Marinatto said that the conference is looking at other opportunities but that the basketball and football schools are united and want to work this out together.

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS ON THIS: John Marinatto is putting a happy face but he knows this is over for the Big East as we know it. The league is not going to be better, especially if Rutgers and Connecticut leave, and if that happens it is almost a sure thing that the so-called basketball schools will form their own league and leave the leftover football schools to find a new home. As for the blast about playing in Greensboro, well, that is a funny one-liner  but  it shows how much of a nerve Swofford and company struck when they talked about bringing the ACC Tournamnt to MSG. And the 27-month thing is interesting - Pitt and Syracuse want to leave, the Big East wants to move on and my guess is that this is a lot of hot air and the two schools will be allowed to leave earlier than 2014. The conference may play hard ball and make Pitt and Syracuse play next season as well but I can't see how or why they'd make them stay around for two more seasons.

***** Michael Tranghese, the former commissioner, was on WFAN New York with Mike Francessa and he did an interview. Here is the link to the podcast. Tranghese really went with both cannons blazing here and for those who don't want to listen to the entire thing - it is 27 minutes long - I've transcribed the highlights.

A) Tranghese said the biggest problem is college presidents lack integrity. “College athletics is controlled by football and controlled by money," he said. "I don’t blame conference commissioners, I don’t blame schools, we have presidents supposedly in charge but we’ve lost all sense of loyalty, all sense of fairness, all sense of integrity, it is absolute chaos. It is [conferences] getting bigger when they are doing very well and don’t need to get bigger. There is no one in charge.”

"Up until two years ago, I would have argued that presidents would have loyalty and integrity. I’ve lost all faith in that. The college presidents took over college athletics in 1990 and I would tell someone to stop and take stock in what has happened to college athletics since 1990 – we have utter chaos, a lack of leadership, greed and everything else."

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS: Michael Tranghese is one of the classiest and smartest guys in this business and I like him a lot. But he is a basketball guy and this is the first of many statements he has made which (a) show his disdain for college football and how much it overshadows basketball and (b) why the Big East football conference never fully realized its potential. When the commissioner and part architect of a conference - and the commissioner who follows him for that matter - treat football as if it is an annoyance that takes away from their favorite sport, it is doomed to fail. As for his shots at college presidents, it is hard to argue with what he said, there is an awful lot of greed and hypocrisy among them.

B) Tranghese said. "The Big East has been vulnerable for a long time because we didn’t play well enough in football."

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS: Well that is only partially true. Miami and Virginia Tech begged for the Big East to change some things and shift the focus from basketball to football at least a decade before they left. And both of those schools, along with Syracuse at one point in the 1990's, all were top ten programs - so winning wasn't the issue in the 1990's, it was that football league was always treated like a stepchild and teams like Miami, BC, Syracuse and Virginia Tech all had enough and went looking for long-term stability. Had football been taken more seriously from the day the conference opened doors I don't know that we would be sitting here today.

C.)  Tranghese said that the basketball schools need to break away, add a few teams and form their own conference and it would work because they'd have a grip on Madison Square Garden.

"The basketball schools need to go to the right and have a serious conversation," he said. "They have been through a lot, they have never prevented the football schools from doing what they needed to do but they have now been bludgeoned twice by football expansion. They have to look at life on their own and I think life on their own they can be successful."

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS: Once again, Tranghese shows his true colors as a basketball guy that disdains football and the power it wields. The idea that somehow the basketball schools are the victims in this is ridiculous - and further, what exactly have the "basketball schools" done to make the basketball conference better? I mean, Georgetown had a Final Four run a few years ago as did Villanova and Marquette had been an NCAA team for the most part but who are the best "basketball schools" in the Big East? Oh that's right - Pitt, Louisville, West Virginia, Connecticut and Syracuse, in other words except for Villanova and Georgetown - it has been the schools that play football as well. The so-called "basketball schools" - St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul - what the hell have they done in recent years?

D.) Tranghese said he was extremely upset with Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo and ACC Commissioner John Swofford for suggesting that the ACC could play some conference tournament games at Madison Square Garden.

"The ACC is talking about how they have this rotation and they are going to bring the ACC tournament New York for a year – just give me a break," Tranghese said.  "I found it highly objectionable and disrespectful that, on the day Dave Gavitt died, they are talking about bringing these southern based teams to Madison Square Garden, like we are going to go watch Clemson-North Carolina State game. Trust me, I wanted to throw up when I heard that."

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS: Not much to add to this. The guy built the Big East Tournament into one of the premier events on the national athletic calender every year so it is hard to blame him for being so territorial about Madison Square Garden. The one thing I would say is this - what would be more attractive to basketball fans in New York - a conference tournament that includes Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, UConn and Pitt or a conference tournament that includes, um, Marquette, Notre Dame, St. John's and Providence? I have my suspicions, but I'll let you guess.

E.) Tranghese said it was inevitable for this to happen (football schools to defect from the Big East). He then rips into the Big East football schools for being so bad over the years. "Football is too powerful and they were going to leave," Tranghese said. "On one hand they would argue ‘we should get more money, we should get more of this, we should get more of this and there was constant complaining but take a look, they never beat anybody. You can’t have it both ways. It was illogical to me, they want to get better in football so they add Syracuse and Pittsburgh for football, which makes no sense."

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS: Ok, this is a case of extremely selective memory on Tranghese's part and also if I really wanted to dig through archives, proves how much he really is just venting here as he spent the better part of his last few years bragging about how the Big East had won three BCS games over the SEC (Georgia), Big 12 (Oklahoma) and ACC (Wake). And correct me if I am wrong but Miami won a national title in the early part of the decade, Virginia Tech played for a national title against FSU in like 1999 and over the years Pitt has beaten teams like Notre Dame and Texas A&M and South Florida has beaten teams like Auburn, etc., etc. Yes the Big East football teams didn't win as many games as they should have, but they won enough to prove they belonged and certainly won enough to maintain the conference's BCS status. I do agree that Pitt and Syracuse have to continue to improve their football programs but I would be willing to bet that both schools were invited to join the ACC for more reasons than football. If you listen to the podcast, you will hear Francessa, who is very close to Tranghese, make one of the more ridiculous comments when he says that the ACC has weakened its football conference every time it has expanded since Florida State joined. That's just dumb. The best team in that conference over the past seven seasons has been Virginia Tech and Miami, while not the Miami of old, is still one of the premier football programs in the country - and has far more potential than any of the other ACC schools except for Florida State.

F.) Tranghese ripped the ACC for being unethical and said that the only reason the ACC has raided the Big East is because the Big East became the premier basketball conference in the country and the ACC knew it could no longer compete with that so it went through other channels to bring the Big East to its knees.

"The ACC is going to come and get more teams," Tranghese said. "They have done it twice now and they have done it and in my opinion, it hasn’t been done above board. I respect the right of people to leave but there is a way to do business. And they have done it twice and bludgeoned it and they always say that they didn’t intend to do cause harm and I can say this because I don’t really give a damn any more – we kicked their butts in basketball for the last ten years now."

"When we first started the ACC was our goal – we finally got to a point where, after they took BC, Virginia tech and Miami where it really weakened their basketball league," Tranghese said. "Plus both Carolina and Duke were opposed to it and we became so strong, where we won the battle on the court and we were winning the recruiting battles with everyone with the exception of Duke and Carolina and the only one way we could get taken down was football, money and taking people but it seems like that is the way it is in college athletics now."

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS: I'll say this - that is some real black helicopter-level conspiracy theory stuff there but sadly, he is right in some ways. The whole point of what the ACC - and every other league - is doing is to try and strengthen its place at the table and weaken the competition. And he is also right that the Big East had become a better league than the ACC top to bottom. But I'm still not sure that I see John Swofford sitting in a cigar-filled room with a bunch of ACC presidents spit balling about how to get even with the Big East for building a better basketball league than they have.

G.) I'm sure this will cause a meltdown of at least one certain Rutgers blogger, but Tranghese said what we've all know for years - that the idea of Rutgers or Connecticut "delivering the New York market" is ridiculous. He said the Big Ten studied expansion and decided the only school which would truly deliver the New York market is Notre Dame.

"Rutgers was looked at, Syracuse was looked at, Connecticut was looked at,"
Tranghese said. "but the addition of any one of those schools was not going to deliver the New York market. Now again, they ask themselves – can they get the New York market with Rutgers or Connecticut? No."

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS: The only thing I would say is this - individually, no, those schools aren't delivering anything. But as a bloc- Syracuse, Connecticut and Rutgers, would probably solidify any conference's standing in the New York market.

H.) Tranghese said that he believes that more teams make it more difficult to keep everyone happy and it also means you have to divide the money more ways. He said it was very difficult to keep everyone happy in the Big East once it went to 16 and he said that the idea of bigger necessarily means more money or better is just not true.

"In some ways you are better off at 12 than 16," Tranghese said. "You have less mouths to feed, it is easier to run, you add people when they add value. The Pac-12 added Colorado and Utah and made it sound like that is the reason they got their this big television deal, that is the biggest bunch of crap I have ever heard. They got their television deal because ESPN and Fox were in competition with each other and they probably would have gotten the same amount without Utah and Colorado. Now if they would say that they added them to have a championship game and that is your motivation then do it, but don’t tell me that is the reason you got television money because it is so far from the truth."

"The ACC is going to pay Syracuse and Pitt so it is a good deal for Pitt and Syracuse but is it a good deal for North Carolina and Duke?," he said. "They aren’t getting any more money. The winners of the last ACC expansion were Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami, it wasn’t Duke or North Carolina, and I think the same things will hold true now.  Why would ESPN give the ACC more money over the addition of Pitt and Syracuse football? Why would you give them $25 million more?"

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS: This is flat-out wrong. Here is a little chart showing revenues for each ACC team the season before expansion and their revenue the year after expansion. Every school in the ACC saw their revenues increase by at least $6.2 million. For North Carolina it meant an extra $14 million, for Virginia it meant $22 million more. In other words, yes, they DID get more money which was the point of it all. Now, will that happen this time around - only time will tell, but to say that Duke or North Carolina did not benefit from the ACC expanding to 12 teams is false.

*** Speaking of hypocrisy, greed and arrogance - Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in this USA Today article that he was upset with the direction of college athletics and said Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg was a hypocrite and not trustworty. "A university's leadership taking a position that it was going to lead a conference's efforts in keeping it together and … with no notice to anybody, abandoning it," Swarbrick said. "That's hard to understand in the context of a industry in which collegiality and integrity are supposed to be such key parts."

He then added this, "I don't understand it. How do you vote as a collegiate president on something that has the potential to provide some benefit for your institution and the conference you're affiliated with but has a very negative consequence for a host of other members of the academy, as presidents like to call it?"

And then he took issue with the idea that Pitt and Syracuse were going to more stable ground and hinted that the relationship between Pitt and Notre Dame, which has always been very good, could be fractured over this..."It would be one thing if you could say, look, what it does is painful but at the end of the day what it does is fix some significant flaws or issues. But I don't think the case for that is very strong. And certainly, what it does to impressions of the industry and relationships between institutions that have reason to work together for a host of reasons beyond sport isn't good."

ZEISE'S THOUGHTS: There are a lot of schools in this who have a valid reason to be upset and vent about Pitt and Syracuse leaving the Big East football conference in a very tough spot. West Virginia, for instance, has been extremely loyal to the conference and if Oliver Luck were to blast Pitt and Syracuse, well, it would be valid. And even though TCU, Louisville, Cincinnati and USF are all carpetbaggers who left other conferences to come to the Big East, well, they at least had been working to strengthen the conference so their concerns are valid as well. But Notre Dame? Give me a break. If Jack Swarbrick and Notre Dame wanted to save the Big East football conference it could have at any time in the past 20 years by simply saying one little phrase "we are going to join" but they haven't. Notre Dame could have solved this conference's problems, could have stepped in and helped, could have done this at any time - even in the past few years - and chose not to because it wants to hold onto its lucrative NBC money and access to the BCS on its own merits. In other words Notre Dame has always looked out for Notre Dame and never once offered to come to the rescue of the Big East so it doesn't get to complain now that the other schools in the conference are starting to look out for their own interests as well.

*** Although this is a development for Pitt fans to feel good about the future of its program, there are some real consequences that a move like this might very well produce and it is a reality that so far, few seem to want to acknowledge. A big one is this - Pitt could be left without any of its traditional rivalries on the football schedule after the two-game Penn State series is played. That's because West Virginia and Notre Dame could decide that they don't want a relationship with Pitt any more due to the way this all came about and if that happens, well, Pitt could face the very real possibility of having a decade or so without ever playing Penn State, West Virginia or Notre Dame. And I don't care how many ways you try and spin that, it is not a good development by any measure. Again, WVU and Notre Dame haven't said they won't play Pitt but don't be surprised if there aren't at least some hard feelings there.

Also, because the Panthers might only have three non-conference games to play each year (there is talk that the ACC could go to nine conference games once Syracuse and Pitt join the league) that will make it more difficult to have more than one BCS-league nonconference opponent in any given year as the formula for scheduling almost assuredly will be - Division I-AA team, MAC-level team and BCS-conference team. So if the Notre Dame series does continue, I don't see how Pitt is going to find room for West Virginia as well or vice versa, particularly if there is only three non-conference games.

Change can be good or bad and this change seems like it will be very good for Pitt, but there are some issues which will need to get worked out and there are some traditions and traditional rivals that could get left behind. As long as you face that reality, you won't be in shock if it comes to pass that Notre Dame and West Virginia are no longer on the football schedule.

*** The other thing to remember is this quote from the USA Today article. The NCAA's first-year president Mark Emmert is preaching caution," This is not about playing monopoly and moving pieces around. These are real institutions with real students and real coaches and real programs, and it's much, much more complex than playing a simple game. There's a chance to do some things that would be helpful, and there's a chance to do some things that would be very wrong."

That part about "real people" is one I want to address because I spoke with several people today at Pitt and around Pitt, people who have been around for a long time and they said the same thing about this move - it is bittersweet. It is obviously a good move for Pitt's future but it also means a lot of very good relationships are going to be fractured beyond repair, a lot of good relationships with good people will come to an end and it won't be the same ever again.Yes, it is important to move forward but some of these relationships go back 20 or 30 years and those are the kinds of relationships that are tough to leave behind. So while it is fashionable to think that there is overwhelming joy and celebration over at Pitt about this ACC deal, understand there is also a little bit of sadness as well.

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