On a day in which all 10 Big East schools were present at the conference’s basketball media day at Madison Square Garden, Commissioner Val Ackerman made it a point to single out Pirates’ basketball.
Speaking at Big East Media Day at The Garden on Oct. 22, Ackerman, who also talked on matters regarding the entire conference, made it clear that Seton Hall’s teams, both the men’s and women’s, were on the rise.
Seton Hall has some of its highest expectations in years and Ackerman made that clear.
“I think they’re on a quick upward trajectory,” Ackerman said of the Hall. “Pat Lyons has brought great leadership to the entire athletic department. President (Gabriel) Esteban is clearly committed to Seton Hall Athletics. Both coaches have done a great job. Kevin (Willard) and Tony (Bozzella) both are well-respected and energetic and know what they’re doing.”
She went on to say that all of the attention surrounding the Pirates is a positive for the Big East.
“We’re really excited for the Hall,” Ackerman said. “For the conference to have a strong presence there is helpful, if not critical. We’re hoping for great things and they deserve it because they worked hard to get to where they are.”
Ackerman also focused on all of the excitement being generated by the Big East this season from both men’s and women’s programs, as well as the business side of things.
“We want to keep building on what we had last year,” the second-year commissioner said. “We had a great first year as a new group of schools with some important changes, being on Fox Television of course, being located in New York and having three new schools in the mid-west.”
Those mid-west schools, Butler, Creighton and Xavier, all enter year two as members of the Big East conference. As for television, Fox Sports also enters its second year with the conference. The network broadcasted over 150 games last season. This year, Fox and the Big East have partnered up to form the Big East Digital Network. The league also moved their official headquarters to Manhattan in September.
Ackerman discussed Daisha Simmons and the circumstances of her messy transfer to Seton Hall from Alabama as well.
“The NCAA has rules and protocols and I can’t comment on those,” she said. “I know Seton Hall is thrilled to have her joining them this year. I’m happy for her because it gives her a chance to come home and to be closer to her family and still have an opportunity to play basketball while she’s doing that. For her personally, I think it was a great result and a fair result.”
Alabama had been attempting to block Simmons’ transfer to Seton Hall after she told them she wanted to be closer to her family. After public out lash, Alabama decided to give up and the transfer was approved by the NCAA. Throughout the story’s development there was much debate over the term “student welfare” and how that applies to collegiate athletes.
“What it is, it’s making sure that the value proposition for student athletes is a fair one,” Ackerman said of student welfare. “For most student athletes that includes getting a scholarship which pays for their tuition, fees, room and board, a chance to go to a good school, to get a degree without going into debt and to have the benefit of the unique way that sports helps you get ready for the real world.”
Ackerman also touched on the topic during the day’s opening remarks.
“We have 3,100 athletes in the Big East conference,” she said. “They’re students. They are not employees. Our schools are investing in these young people so they can turn them into accomplished and distinguished alums who are going to go on and do big things with their lives.”
Ackerman, who was once a student-athlete herself at Virginia, said the focus is on making sure athletes are getting the full benefits for what they bring to their respective schools.
“That’s what all the talk has been in the last year: how to make sure of basics” she said. “The full cost of attendance rather than something that leaves a gap between cost and scholarship and the actual cost of attendance is covered. Making sure that the medical needs are addressed in the right ways. Making sure that if they leave school and go on to play in the pros that they have the chance to come back at the school’s expense to get a degree at some point in their life.”
The commissioner also said athletes should be able to have access to agents sooner and that transfers, such as Simmons, should be able to leave under the right circumstances.
“People want to make sure that if there’s a good reason for a transfer that it can get done,” the New Jersey native said. “Coaches can come and go more freely without penalties and that’s not the case with student athletes.”
Ackerman also spoke about the NBA’s one-and-done rule, which allows collegiate players the right to enter the pros after a year of school, which may become an option for Seton Hall standout-freshman and Big East Preseason Player of the Year, Isaiah Whitehead and other freshmen stars around the conference.
“It’s not the NCAA’s rule,” Ackerman, the former president of the WNBA, said. “It’s the NBA, it’s whatever works for it and its union. It comes down to what the NBA’s principal interests are. This is one I’m giving more thought to. I’m not exactly sure what the right result is. In the meantime, our schools have managed to make this current setup work.”
As for actual basketball and what to expect on the court, Ackerman made it clear the conference will be one to watch this season.
“Basketball and the Big East go hand in glove,” she said at the start of the day. “We were built by our founder Dave Gavitt to be a basketball powerhouse and it is our intention to remain one.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GPhillips2727.