A Step Forward with an Eye to the Past

BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman

BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman

May 5, 2014

By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com

NEW YORK - If the new BIG EAST returned to its roots last season when it once again became a basketball-centric conference, it went a step further in that direction Monday when the conference, along with the Big Ten, announced an agreement that will honor its late founder, Dave Gavitt.

"This is a big day," said BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman. "And I am very, very happy to be here with my colleague (Big Ten Commissioner) Jim Delany to announce that the BIG EAST and the Big Ten have entered into an eight-year agreement beginning in 2015 to play a series of men's basketball games every November that will be known as the Gavitt Tipoff Games."

The Gavitt Tipoff Games will be held on four consecutive days in the first full week of the college basketball season with the games being played at home sites, four from each conference. The matchups for the inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games will be announced after next season. Monday's announcement was attended by current BIG EAST coaches Steve Lavin of St. John's and John Thompson III of Georgetown, as well as Iowa head coach Fran McCaffrey along with former Maryland coach Gary Williams, who was recently elected to both the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He coached at Boston College in the BIG EAST and Ohio State in the Big Ten.

Gavitt, who was pivotal in the formation of the BIG EAST as well becoming its first commissioner, died in 2011 at the age of 73. A basketball visionary, Gavitt was always looking for ways to improve the college game and his former right-hand man, Mike Tranghese, said Monday's announcement was something his old boss would have loved.


 

 

"This is the kind of thing Dave was always trying to do," said Tranghese, the first person hired at the BIG EAST by Gavitt and his ultimate successor as commissioner. "People forget that we have all these challenges now but the first challenge was the BIG EAST-ACC (Challenge) which was his idea. But his grandest idea was he was always searching for a way to start the college basketball season and one of his great dreams was to have everybody play on opening day to sort of signal the start of the season. Even for him that was insurmountable. But this would bring a big smile to his face. This is the kind of thing that he always used to focus on - competition."

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA Vice President of Men's Basketball Championships and Dave's son, said he thinks the Gavitt Tipoff Games will be the perfect vehicle to tipoff the college season.

"I think it will really energize college basketball to have the Gavitt Tipoff Games in that first week of the season," Dan Gavitt said. "Candidly, we were approached by other groups over the last couple of years to do something to honor my dad in a basketball way and it never seemed to be the right fit. But because this benefits the two conferences, in particular the BIG EAST and the Big Ten, and because of the relationships that my dad had with Jim Delany and with Val Ackerman, this just seemed to be the perfect fit so we're incredibly honored about that.

"He would be thrilled about this and I know our family is, too."

Each of the BIG EAST's 10 teams will play a minimum of six times over the eight-year deal while the Big Ten schools will participate a minimum of four times as the conference will be expanding to 14 teams next season. The agreement could also spawn some new regional rivalries that have not developed over the years for one reason or another, including Georgetown vs. Maryland and Xavier vs. Ohio State.

Ackerman said the agreement between two the nation's premier basketball conferences had been in the works for quite some time.

"We started talking about this last summer, not long after I took the job (as BIG EAST commissioner)," said Ackerman. "There was no rush to do this because Jim knew we were focused on other things first in terms of us just getting through the year. But now that we have the basketball season behind us, we've had this arrangement for a couple of months now at this point but we agreed to hold the announcement until after the season had ended and give it its own moment."

"This all started with friendship and it ends with competition," said Delany. "This shows Dave's spirit is with us today as much as when he was with us."

For Ackerman, who has long ties with the Gavitt family, the agreement carried some extra relevance.

"It's emotional, really," Ackerman said. "I was just a young executive with the NBA getting all my first tastes of the sports business and Dave was bigger than life to me. He was at his peak then as the commissioner of the BIG EAST, later as senior executive vice president of the Celtics and chairman of the Basketball Hall of Fame on whose board I still serve. I was so impressed by him. He was someone that I looked up to, learned a lot from and tried to emulate in some ways and the chance for me, I said this when I got hired, to be part of the new BIG EAST and to help carry on his legacy was honor enough. But this really means a great deal to me personally and to the BIG EAST and I know to Jim as well so it's very special for all of us."