BIG EAST MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 27, 2019
JOHN PAQUETTE: Welcome, everybody. For some, welcome back. I'm John Paquette from the Big East office. We have lot of Big East staffers here to help you do your job or anything you may need today, so please call on us.
I'm going to explain briefly the format for today. We will have remarks from Big East commissioner Val Ackerman and University of Connecticut president Susan Herbst. After Val's remarks, we will have a brief photo opportunity right in front here. After President Herbst's remarks, we will have a short Q&A.
Let's get started first with Big East commissioner Val Ackerman with some remarks.
VAL ACKERMAN: Thanks so much, John. Hi, everybody. Thanks so much for coming today.
I want to start off by thanking our good friend Joel Fisher, executive vice president here at Madison Square Garden, the long-time home of the Big East men's basketball tournament, for making this great space available to us today for this very, very special announcement.
It was 40 years ago, plus just about a month, that Dave Gavitt and Mike Tranghese, a group of their colleagues, announced to the world that a new basketball super conference was being formed with seven charter members representing the most prestigious basketball schools in the east.
Since that historic moment in May of 1979, the Big East journey has been one of many twists and turns. There have been highs, there have been lows, there have been comings and goings, colorful coaches, hard-fought competition, enduring rivalries, magic, and unforgettable moments in this building, fan passion and loyalty that's matched the avidity of any group of fans anywhere. It's been a remarkable 40-year march for the conference, to say the least.
When the Big East reconfigured in 2013, our president set out to return the conference to its roots and reclaim the focus on basketball that was at the heart of Dave's vision back in 1979.
But the new start was about more than just basketball for the new Big East schools. Our presidents also wanted a league where the members were colleagues and partners and collaborators who had a shared sense of purpose about the power of college sports to bring together and energize faculty, students, alums, university communities and, of course, student-athletes and coaches and staff in a way that very few activities on campus can.
Bringing back in some measure the vibe of the Big East in its heyday was also very much on their minds. So today's announcement is a nod to both of those goals.
As we head into our 41st year, this proud and history-making conference couldn't be more excited to announce that the University of Connecticut is coming back to its original home and will once again be a Big East school.
Things have gone very well for us with our 10-school lineup these past six years, thanks in large part to our partnership with the Garden and FOX Sports and the outstanding performances of our coaches and student-athletes.
But the opportunity to add a member who is a national basketball brand, that's in our geographic footprint, who has an outstanding fan base with proven support of our biggest annual event, and who brings the added bonus of having a deeply etched, shared history with us, intense rivalries with many of our schools. All of that taken together represented an opportunity that we simply couldn't pass up.
A few details to confirm what's already been in the news. UConn's date of entry in the Big East hasn't been formally determined, but it wouldn't be before July 1st, 2020. UConn will bring 20 sports to the Big East. We now have 22 sports that we sponsor as a conference. The only ones that would not involve Husky student-athletes are women's golf and men's lacrosse, because these are sports UConn doesn't field.
As an historical note, UConn won 80 Big East conference titles in its first 34 years with our league. We know they'll be bringing their A game competition when their second round with us gets underway.
UConn's entry will mean that we will move to 20-game conference schedules in men's and women's basketball, which will allow us to preserve our current double round-robin format and keep us in lockstep with the other power basketball leagues that have also moved to 20-game conference formats.
Given the tremendous depth of our league, we expect this will make Big East conference play the toughest and most exciting in men's college basketball.
Finally, to anticipate a possible question, we have no plans at this time to add a 12th member school.
I want to thank Susan Herbst for her efforts and leadership in making this day possible. Susan, we wish you all the best as your impressive term at the helm of UConn comes to an end in August.
Our thanks go as well to Governor Lamont, Attorney General Tong, and the UConn Board of Trustees for providing the approvals needed for this move to happen.
We've had the pleasure of meeting incoming UConn president Tom Katsouleas, and we very much look forward to launching with him a long and exciting partnership that we know will bring great benefits and a new round of athletic successes to both Connecticut and the Big East.
I want to thank UConn director of athletics Dave Benedict for all of his hard work in bringing us to this moment. Under Dave's oversight, UConn athletics are clearly in great hands. We look forward to a fruitful working relationship with him, his coaches and his staff.
We're, of course, excited about the prospect of working with Coach Gino Auriemma, who I have had the honor of knowing for many years, and Coach Dan Hurley. We know you'll be great additions to our basketball coaching ranks, and we're very proud to have your programs under the Big East umbrella.
To all UConn coaches, I want to say thank you for everything you do every single day for your student-athletes. We look forward to getting to know all of you, and I'll pledge to you we'll do everything we can at the conference office to support your efforts in developing not just great athletes but great people who will go on to be proud UConn alums and productive members of society long after their Big East playing days are over.
I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge Frank Saviano and Joe Leccese from the law firm of Proskauer Rose for representing us so capably in this exciting matter. And to Steve Greenberg of Allen & Company for their valuable advice and counsel to our board during this process.
To Husky Nation, whatever part of it may be watching, thanks in advance for all your support of our teams. And if history is any guide, we know you're going to make our men's basketball tournament here at the world's most famous arena, which we think already is the best event of its kind in the sports world, that much better, and help it remain a can't-miss happening every March here in New York City.
Susan and the Huskies, with that let's make it official. On behalf of our presidents, welcome back to the Big East Conference.
SUSAN HERBST: Good afternoon. First, I'd like to thank Commissioner Val Ackerman. She is amazing. She got us through this process with so much grace and so much enthusiasm. She really understands UConn and why we belong in the Big East.
All the Big East presidents, many of whom I've spoken to over the years, thanks so much for inviting us to the conference. We're absolutely thrilled.
I also want to thank the athletic directors at all the institutions of the Big East for their support and also their vision about a future that includes UConn.
We at Connecticut are filled with gratitude, with pride and with excitement. As Val mentioned, 40 years ago when Dave Gavitt started this league, he wanted a major conference that could compete on the national stage. The Big East very quickly became a collegiate athletic powerhouse.
UConn was one of the Big East founding members and over more than three decades we really thrived there. We achieved the most incredible wins and endured the most heartbreaking losses, many of them in this building. Win or lose, we loved every second of it.
The Big East made it all possible, enabled us to become the kind of school we are today. The competition, our rivalries across sports, they were intense. They were passionate. Above all they're a thrill to watch and be a part of. The Big East always represented the highest order of athletic excellence. So joining the Big East now, rejoining, UConn is coming home.
History matters immensely, but today is really about our excitement for the future as a university and also as a conference. It's a new era for us. We enter it with real eagerness and optimism.
I want to thank the American Athletic Conference which has been our home for the last six years. The AAC is a terrific conference, great competitors. I want to thank our commissioner Mike Aresco and all the colleagues I have in the AAC, institutions, for their partnership over the last six years.
Many thanks to our governor again, Ned Lamont, for his support, insights, enthusiasm about UConn. But most of all thanks so much to the Big East for having us back. We feel like we're home. Thanks, Val.
JOHN PAQUETTE: We'd like to do a short Q&A. Questions, please.
Q. Val, with 11 teams now, has there been any discussion as to what the Big East tournament format might look like?
VAL ACKERMAN: I think our starting point at this point will be subject to additional conversation we'll have with Joel and his team is that we could do a triple-header on Wednesday. Instead of the two games that we've done the last few years, it would be three, where we would play the 11 up through 6. It will be those six games playing three, then the winners advancing to quarterfinal day on Thursday to play the top five in the quarterfinal games.
Q. (Question regarding the timetable of discussions.)
VAL ACKERMAN: This really came together after the basketball season is when our talks really got going. Quickly became apparent there was mutual interest. I would say over the last couple of weeks in particular there's really been an acceleration, a lot of things came together. Had to in order for this to happen in terms of the approval of our board and the contract that we've signed, of course, the processes that needed to take place at Connecticut's end.
It's really been the last couple of months.
Q. (Question about deficits.)
SUSAN HERBST: We do have deficit at our athletic department, as do most institutions in the country. I do see it as an investment instead of a deficit. We're always working on cutting costs.
Initially we have more costs because we have to pay our entrance fee and some work to do with the American. This is about the long-term, our long-term future. Over the long-term, because of the travel changes, we're going to save a couple million dollars a year because the schools are easier to get to than they are in the American.
We have already since Friday or Saturday when it started coming out we were talking with the Big East, our season ticket sales are already way up in men's and women's basketball. We'll see that.
Of course, our donors, who are always engaged, excited, they are reenergized like you wouldn't believe. Through those kind of things, more revenues, ticket sales, donors, decreased travel, then our continuing work on efficiencies, we're not worried about that at all.
It's about the long-term.
Q. Val, did you feel like this was needed to improve the league's brand? Was this something you felt you needed another big school to kind of take the league to the next level?
VAL ACKERMAN: I will tell you, we've not been aggressively pursuing expansion. I mean, the 10-school configuration for us has worked out I think better than anybody expected, including people in our league.
On the men's basketball side, I think the proof is in what our schools have been able to do in tournament play, two national championships to show for it with the great work done by Jay Wright and the Wildcats.
We thought we were sitting pretty for a while. We were settling into the 10-team new Big East. But as I said, when this opportunity presented itself to readmit a charter member who has as blue blood a basketball pedigree as anybody, who is down the road with a great fan base, as I said in my remarks, with this shared history with this league that has survived everything in the last 41 years, it's just something we felt we had to capitalize on.
As I said, I don't expect to go beyond this at this point, but you never know what the future holds. It's a great day for the conference and we're looking forward to an 11-school league.
Q. Val, talk about what this means for the FOX deal going forward. Any other TV deals including SNY?
VAL ACKERMAN: FOX controls all Big East TV rights. We're in the middle of a long-term deal with them that goes for another six years. They've been outstanding partners.
The way the contract works, all Big East home sporting events belong to FOX. So that means home contests from Connecticut will all move to FOX. Then it really is up to FOX to decide what they want to do with, for example, sublicenses.
Some of you may have seen they recently renewed a sublicense with CBS Sports that had been in place for the first six years and has now been reupped. In addition to our FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2 package, there will be a number of Big East games, including men's and women's basketball, on CBS and CBS Sports Network.
That's the answer: we don't know yet. Once the smoke clears here, UConn becomes a member, because that hasn't happened yet, we'll get into discussions with FOX about what the future holds.
JOHN PAQUETTE: Thank you, everyone.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports