<
>

One-on-one with Mike Tranghese, Part I

1/7/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Mike Tranghese was the man who oversaw the creation of Big East football, and he just presided over his final season. The Big East commissioner will leave his office this summer. I caught up with Tranghese for his thoughts on the state of his league and other topics. This is part one of my interview:

What are your thoughts about overseeing your final football season?

Mike Tranghese: Everybody asks me that, but I haven't looked at it that way. I think I look at the season and try to project what needs to be done next. (Incoming commissioner) John Marinatto and I talk about it all the time, and I think people just have to continue to work hard and make sure that when there's a coaching change they get it right, because I think the essence of any success is that you've got to have good coaches. I keep looking at it from that perspective and haven't really dwelled on it and said, 'Hey, this is the last game I'm going to go to as a commissioner.' Because I'm obviously still going to watch games as a fan.

Well, what do you feel is the state of the Big East as you leave office?

MT: It's better than what it was when we reorganized (in 2005). I think we're at a disadvantage at times being only eight, and people say we've got to get bigger. And I say, if we can get better. Getting bigger for the sake of getting bigger is not an option in my mind. There would have to be somebody out there that would make us better. I think a lot of the criticism has quieted down, but people still take their shots. And I understand that. That just comes with the territory. It seems if you're not playing for the national championship, people are critical of you and I don't think that's the only measuring stick. You want to be competitive at the highest level, and that's what you strive for every year.

And people seem to forget you were a few points away from playing for the title last year.

MT: Yeah, and you know West Virginia messed up and it didn't happen. And I think Cincinnati (this season) would have been ranked significantly higher, but they just had a lot of injuries -- although I think beating Oklahoma on the road is almost an impossible task. You know it's interesting; since we reorganized, we have not had any team go through our league undefeated. I tell people that and they look at me like I'm crazy. But Cincinnati had a loss. Last year, West Virginia had two losses. Part of the problem is our league is beating each other up and that hurts you in the polls, but that's just the way it is. You've just got to play.

When you brought Cincinnati into the league, people didn't think much of its football program. Was it neat seeing Cincinnati have that breakthrough this year?

MT: Yeah, and I know how far they've come. I remember when I met with Bob Goin, who was then the athletic director, and Bob really felt that they had a big upside. They just had to have a place to lay their hat and be able to recruit to it. And he obviously made a great coaching hire at the time with Mark (Dantonio) and Mark began to bring in a better level of player. And even with Brian (Kelly), I think recruiting is really upticking now, and I think if anything they're going to get better. And I think we have a number of programs like that and we just need a little more time. You know, they're in Ohio with Ohio State, and that's a hard team to recruit against. But Ohio State can't take all the players. So they've got to take the right players and coach them up and be competitive at the highest level possible.

Is it good for the league overall to have different teams getting to that level?

MT: I don't know. I just think it's good if you have someone ranked in the top four or five. That seems to be the measuring stick. I don't know that it has to be the same team every year. I don't think we have a program right now that dominates our league the way, let's say, Oklahoma and Texas have in the Big 12 or the way Florida has in the SEC or the way USC has in the Pac-10. We just have not created a dominant team yet. Now we may, but it hasn't happened yet. Whether it does or not, I don't know if it's important. What's important is in most years that you have a team that has a chance to win the national championship -- that's what your goal is. But that's hard. You know, you're dealing with Florida, you're dealing with Oklahoma, with USC, Ohio State. It's hard.

And those teams get more benefit of the doubt when they have one loss.

MT: They do. I think the polls as well as the computers are slanted in perception to what I consider the name teams. But that's the way it's always been and the way it's going to be in the foreseeable future. I just don't see it changing. So you've just got to go out and schedule and play and go out and win.

I hear a lot from Mountain West and even WAC fans that they deserve an automatic bid as much as the Big East does. With Utah going 13-0, they seem to have an argument. What's your take on that?

MT: We went through a cycle and there was an opportunity for everybody, and obviously during that four-year cycle we proved ourselves. I think the Mountain West has had an unbelievable year. I mean, if they continue to play at this level, then there is a provision in the BCS bylaws that allows a seventh conference to have an automatic bid. But you don't get there over just one year; it has to be a period of time. I talked to (MWC commissioner) Craig Thompson about it, and they had an unbelievable year with teams like Utah, BYU and TCU. If they continue to have good years and there's not a lot of slippage, then next time around there's room at the table for another league. And obviously, we have to prove ourselves, the ACC -- everybody's got to prove themselves. You can't just react from year to year -- it doesn't work that way.

But people seem to take it as, 'We deserve a bid and you should give yours up.' 

MT: That's just not the way it works. What if there's a year when a Pac-10 or a Big Ten team is maybe not as highly ranked? Is the Pac-10 or Big Ten going to give up their seat? It just doesn't work that way. What's the perfect system? I don't know. I hear people talking about a playoff. Well, who's going to get bids in a playoff? I think clearly the system in place now is better than what we had before because it does allow a deserving team like Utah to get in. And it's allowed Boise State to get in, it's allowed Hawaii to get in. Therefore I think the system is better.

I read that the attorney general from Utah wants to challenge the system. I say to people, 'What do you want to do? You want to blow up the system?' Fine, we'll all go back to being independents and being for ourselves. They're not going to be better off with that. The Fiesta Bowl could have taken them this year and chose not to. There's a reason why people are being selective. It's not just wins and losses. It's marketplace, it's television, it's all of tho
se things. That doesn't make it right. That's just the way the system is.