Big East commissioner Val Ackerman dropped the name of the conference’s founding father a few times during a recent Zoom call with reporters.
“This conference has been through a great deal in its first 41 years, and yet I don’t even think Dave Gavitt – the great visionary that he was – could have predicted the turn of events that we’re all grappling with right now,” said Ackerman.
“If this was a time for a leadership moment for all of us, it’s now. Everyone in the college sports community is working as hard as they can to pick up the pieces from [this past] March and try to figure out all this unprecedented uncertainty as far as what our options will be.”
With the coronavirus bringing the 2020 Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament to a screeching halt and nixing the NCAA Tournament, the time has come for high-ranking college officials like Ackerman to start casting a wide net regarding the resumption of games for the 2020-21 school term.
There are health guidelines that need to be taken into account – with UConn rejoining the Big East, the league understands that its fate is in the hands of 11 different jurisdictions – before any concrete decision can be made, yet what should be the course of action in the event that stringent restrictions are still in place by Labor Day?
Specifically, what would happen should the pandemic force Big East members such as Providence College to make adjustments to next season’s basketball schedule? Keep in mind the Friars are slated to visit Hawaii as part of the prestigious Maui Classic that is scheduled for Nov. 23-25.
“All of the conferences are building alternative scheduling models,” said Ackerman. “The good news is that there’s a lot of coordination that’s going on among the conferences as we try to work together on this response.
“In our case, we expect that we’re going to have a patchwork outcome,” Ackerman added. “The likelihood of possible staggered entry dates this fall and beyond is very high for us and that’s going to add to the overall complexity as far as decision making.”
PC’s first summer session begins May 26 and will be held virtually. The second summer session, which encompasses five weeks from June 29 to July 30, has also been moved to an online format. In the event that the campus remains shuttered throughout the summer and into the fall, new scheduling guidelines will undoubtedly need to be put in place for the Friars and their Big East brethren.
“We have not looked into winter sports but know that men’s basketball is at the top of the mind of everyone, especially in a conference like ours,” said Ackerman. “With UConn coming in, we’re working with an 11-team conference that includes 20 league games. We’re hopeful to have a Big East Tournament next year and that Madison Square Garden will be as great as ever, if not more so.”
The Big East Conference sponsors 22 varsity sports. Per Ackerman, men’s basketball is the league’s “core” sport. She said that by Sept. 1, some models would have to be established for the start of preseason practice as well as the composition of non-league and league schedules. There are additional factors such as the need to obtain dates at venues like the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in conjunction with securing programming flexibility with the conference’s primary television partner (Fox Sports).
“No one has thrown out that magic date. We start playing [basketball] games in November. We’re going to proceed as if we’re on time,” said Ackerman, “but by [September], you’re going to need to know so you can deal with travel. That way, you’re able to set up different protocols.”
In trying times, Ackerman takes comfort in the words once said by Gavitt, the Big East’s first commissioner.
“Dave once said that the march of the Big East goes on. We’ve very much taken that to heart over the past seven years,” said Ackerman, referring to when the reconfigured Big East was launched in 2013. “We actually have that quote on the wall of our main conference room in our [Midtown New York] headquarters. I can tell you that will very much remain our creed as we adjust to the opportunities that are ahead for us in college sports.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03