Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Interview with the Commissioner of the Big East

I got the chance to speak one-on-one with Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese last week and here it is. It's a little long but well worth it for Rutgers and Big East fans.

Mike Vorkunov: What do you think of how Rutgers has progressed as a program in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, football… what do you think of where the program has come?
Mike Tranghese: “When Rutgers came into our league, I told our people they were a sleeping giant. They’re the state university of New Jersey… that means a lot… a great educational institution to have them and I think that Greg by what he did with the football program has made people believe that Rutgers can be very special not only academically which they already are but athletically and I think we’re beginning to see that. Now the football team is struggling this year, but that’s cyclical stuff… Greg’s got the football team on very sound footing… Fred’s getting better players and Vivian has had great teams and everyone tells me that her recruiting class is terrific so I think if you’re a Rutgers fan… good things ahead.”

MV: The football team is struggling this year on the field and had some problems with the stadium expansion in terms of reaction to it from the fans and alumni, do you look as this as a blip on the screen or a problem due to the finicky nature of New Jersey sports fans and Rutgers fans?
MT: I don’t know enough about the stadium issue and how fans feel about but Greg’s just taken this program to a whole new level. Knowing Greg the way I do, he’s such a hard worker that he’s going to win. If you’re trying to compete at the highest level, you need facilities. If you don’t have facilities, it’ll eventually come back to bite you. It’s just the way it is, the nature of what college football is. I think Bob Mulcahy and Greg have pushed hard on the stadium because there’s kind of interest in the program now, so I look at the stadium expansion as a positive thing. Now, whether New Jersey voters are going to support it, that’s up to them to decide.

MV: What do you see in the future for the entire athletic department at Rutgers?
MT: Success… more than they’re having now. They’re having a lot of it now, but I think they have even more ahead of them. I think Greg someday will get Rutgers into the BCS, a major bowl game. Vivian’s come so close to winning the national championship… nothing would please me more to see her finally win one and Fred’s got the men’s program heading in the right direction.

MV: What was it like at the beginning of the Big East when it was formed? Is the job harder now or was it harder back then because you were starting from the ground up trying to fight your way to becoming one of the major conferences?
MT: I think it’s significantly harder now. Pressures are greater… you’re operating in the limelight. Back then when we formed in 1979, we were just scratching to get somebody to write about us, just a different time. It’s much more challenging now. It’s harder to stay on top than to get to the top. We’re there now, we just have to keep fighting to make certain we stay there.

MV: Why did you decide to step down as commissioner?
MT: Done it for 19 years… that’s a long time. Fear of flying… I have a terrible fear of flying. Just I’d had it… just didn’t want to fly anymore to be quite candid with you.

MV: Any plans for the future? Just going to kick back?
MT: No, I’m going to work… I just don’t want to fly. Looking at doing some things… teaching or consulting… things like that. No, I feel good and I still have a high energy level so I want to continue working. I just want to stay off airplanes.

MV: You talked about how great the Big East Tournament is in March. If you could just describe it in one single way, how would you try to describe it to non-fans?
MT: It’s like chaos and bedlam and noise and frenzy and the fans are frenetic in their support. It’s crazy, it’s wild, you gotta be there to experience it. If you love college basketball, you have to get to New York either for Friday or Saturday night. They’re the two most special nights of the year for college basketball in my perspective.

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