BIGEAST.org sat down with new BIG EAST Commissioner Mike Aresco to talk about some of the challenges that face him as he takes the job.
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BIGEAST.org: What is it about the BIG EAST Conference Commissioner position that excites you?
Mike Aresco: I grew up in New England and I understand the BIG EAST Conference. During my days at ESPN and at CBS, I worked extensively with the BIG EAST. I think that the future is really bright. I think that what they’ve done now to create a national conference is going to be an extremely workable and valuable model.
As I said to someone earlier, I did not want to be on the sidelines when all of this was happening. I think my entire career has prepared me for a challenge like this and a responsibility like this. I don’t anticipate that all aspects of it will be easy but if there is not significant effort then you don’t get significant gain. I think we are poised to do extremely well. I have really admired the presidents in the way they have conducted their business. I admire the conference and the way they recovered when they had some setbacks earlier in the year and became even bigger and better as they have done in the past.
I also really like the people in the conference office. I have always appreciated the attitude they have. It has always been a friendly collegial place. I think they have always been good for college athletics. I could probably go on and on about reasons why I am really excited about this job. Also at this stage in my career I really welcome some personal challenges like this. I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t believe I could be a really effective commissioner and I can certainly help the BIG EAST in the all-important media deal. We live in a media era whether one likes it or not. We live in a media culture and the media deal is going to be extremely important.
I think I can make a major contribution in that area and throughout my career I have also tried to be a consensus seeker. I want to make sure communication is good, I want to make sure people feel that the conference office is addressing their needs. So I think that there are so many different challenges that will be fun to deal with and whatever hardships we have I am committed to do the best I can to make this future as bright as possible. I think it is a very bright future, I really believe that.
BIGEAST.org: What do you foresee as your most significant challenge as Commissioner?
MA: The first significant challenge will be the TV negotiations - clearly that is critical to the financial future of the BIG EAST and the feeling of well-being that the schools will have. I want the schools to feel that the financial stability of the conference has been guaranteed. I also want the schools to feel that the exposure in the new TV deal is significant and appropriate for their needs.
I want to make sure that we are a leader in new media, that’s really important. What I really want to do is make the schools feel good about the conference and where the conference is. I think the very first challenge is the media deal; it is a critical component to the conference’s future.
Then I think simply continuing the process that began in the spring when Joe Bailey came in as interim commissioner stabilizing things. As I said to the media I didn’t say I had to come in and stabilize anything. I think things are stabilized. The job now is to keep them stable, to make sure we maximize the potential of the conference and that we address everyone’s needs. Clearly I’m sure when you have a large conference like we do there are going to be some differences and issues that you are going to need to work hard on. I want to be a communicator, but I also want to be hands-on. I want to get out and visit the schools. I want our conference office to be cognizant of issues that the schools might have and I think that in the end that if we do that and we do all of those things well then people will feel a real level of comfort with the conference and I think that’s important.
BIGEAST.org: How would you describe yourself as a leader?
MA: Leadership is taking responsibility. I believe you listen, I believe you try to develop consensus when you can. Sometimes leadership can be lonely. There have been times in my career when I had to make a decision that involved some calculated risk and sometimes there was opposition to it and you have to be firm in your principles.
I will be working with the presidents, with the athletic directors, it will be up to me to persuade. A leader persuades, a leader has to develop currency, a leader has to have people willing to follow him or her because they believe in the leader. They have to believe in the vision so you have to sell the vision.
I think leading by example is extremely important. I think people need to see that you’re as committed - or more committed - than they are. You want everyone committed equally. But that’s my concept of leadership: it’s listening, working with people, it’s trying to develop their best talents and make them better. I want people to feel that they are not just employees but that they are on a mission, that they have a valuable service and they are in the service industry. In our case that is for the student-athletes and the schools. I want them to feel that we are happy warriors fighting the good fight and I want, as Mike Krzyzewski used to say, ‘when you have an organization you are either on the train or not on the train.’
You want everyone on board sharing your vision. You try to find the best people and you work with the best people. The BIG EAST has a wonderful staff and you try to make them the best that they can possibly be and you try to improve as a leader yourself. That would be my basic philosophy.
BIGEAST.org: How can you ensure that BIG EAST football will receive acceptable access to the new championship format and bowl structure?
MA: I will do my best to make sure it does. I have to sit down with (Sr. Associate Commissioner for Football & Marketing) Nick (Carparelli) and others and see where we are. For now I need to see what I need to do with various commissioners. I really don’t want to speculate too much because obviously these are complex issues but I am determined to make sure that the BIG EAST gets its fair share.
BIGEAST.org: You have been working closely with the BIG EAST for many years during your time at CBS Sports. What did you learn throughout the selection process that you didn’t know about the league already?
MA: When I was at ESPN I worked with the league extensively in the early days of the BIG EAST and I always appreciated its strengths especially in those days in basketball. Obviously it was a very strong football conference at times. I don’t want to disparage any other conference but I’m just not sure that if the BIG EAST weren’t still viewed as a Big-6 conference that this kind of attention would be paid. The BIG EAST has so much history, so many wonderful schools that have done so many great things and I appreciated that more working with the conference office all these years.
I also saw at CBS the ratings of the BIG EAST teams and the powerful ratings of powerful BIG EAST basketball. I would not have minded having a BIG EAST non-conference game with an SEC team -- the conference that CBS has -- because it would have been great for geographical diversity for national TV. I think that might be also what people are overlooking, if you look at a game between Houston and SMU or Louisville; Rutgers playing USF; Boise State or others you have some national scope there. You have interest in different parts of the country in that game and that is always a valuable component in media circles.
BIGEAST.org: What are the keys for the BIG EAST to maintain its status among the top performing conferences in the country for the long term?
MA: I think long term the keys are how the BIG EAST performs on the field and the court. That is going to be critical. There is just no getting away from it. You have to look at what Boise has done. Boise has done what it has done because it has performed on the field and it has forged its way into the national consciousness. The BIG EAST has done that in basketball for a number of years. Some of its football programs have done that. You saw the attention that Rutgers got when they had some outstanding seasons a few years ago. The buzz surrounding that famous Thursday night game with Louisville on ESPN was probably one of the highest ratings they have had.
We can restore that, if we can get the teams playing at that level than anything is possible. That’s how you maintain the core strength of the conference is the athletic programs. I haven’t even mentioned women’s sports but the BIG EAST leads in women’s basketball and other women’s Olympic sports like soccer. That’s what I’m going to work tirelessly to achieve and I’m really optimistic and I really welcome and embrace this opportunity.