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Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Penn State and the Big East: What could have been


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

The New York Times' Pete Thamel has a long and interesting Q&A with outgoing Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese as Tranghese presides over his final men's basketball league tournament. Lots of good stuff in there to read, but football fans will find the following passages particularly worth parsing:

Pete Thamel: I remember from reading Kevin McNamara's book on the Big East that there have been some near misses with difference schools over the years. Things have obviously worked out. But do you ever look back and wonder what would have happened if Penn State had come aboard?

Mike Tranghese: I look back on the 30 years, and I think we made one major mistake. We had a chance to take Penn State in 1982 and we didn't. You look back on it and the whole face of college athletics would be changed now. If we had taken Penn State in 1982, we may still have football independents. The idea wasn't to take Penn State and start a football league. It was to give Penn State a place. And then they would have been aligned with Syracuse and Boston College. We probably would have brought Pitt in, too, and the four of them probably would have agreed to play and continue as independents. I think the whole face of college football would have changed. I don't think Florida State would have moved and Miami would have moved. All of it came about when Penn State made the decision to go to the Big Ten. I thought that in 1982, I was just a young staffer at this meeting. Dave [Gavitt] wanted to go to Penn State and extend the invitation. But he couldn't if we didn't have the votes. And we had eight teams and needed six votes and it was a 5-3 vote. It was probably the only time that Dave couldn't drive a final decision in the years that he was the commissioner. I was just a staffer. I could say whatever I wanted to Dave. At the end of our meeting, Dave asked what I thought. In fact, it's in our minutes. I said, 'We will rue the day over this decision.' And it's been pretty prophetic.

PT: Paterno has always tagged a lot of that on former Syracuse A.D. Jake Crouthamel, right?

MT: Despite all the negativity that comes out about Jake, he fought like crazy for Penn State to be in the league. Syracuse and Boston College really fought to have Penn State because Jake understood the importance of Penn State. What happened in the previous fall, Penn State had tried to form a football league. Coach Paterno has laid a lot of this at Jake's feet, which I think is wrong. What never got written was that the basketball league was being pretty successful and they couldn't agree on revenue sharing in football. There wasn't going to be any revenue sharing. Jake just wasn't going to do that. The next year Dave brought it up for discussion and Jake was absolutely supportive. We voted five different times and all five times Jake voted for Penn State. And Bill Flynn at Boston College, God rest his soul, voted for Penn State all five times. The reason that they didn't get in was that the league was new, a lot of the directors felt it was a basketball league. Some of the directors felt that the concept of the Big East was big markets. It was a 5-3 vote that changed the face of history.

Think about that. If Penn State joined the Big East for football, the league would have certainly been much different and much stronger. You could argue that the ACC raid never happens, and Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida never come aboard. Whether that's a good or bad thing depends on your perspective. And one or two votes might have made the difference.