Val Ackerman was hired as commissioner of the Big East conference, adding to a basketball-heavy resume that includes being the first president of the Women’s National Basketball Association.
The 53-year-old Ackerman was chosen by the presidents of the conference’s 10 universities.
“We believe we’ve selected the consummate 21st century basketball executive for the consummate 21st century basketball conference,” Georgetown University President John DeGioia said during a conference call with reporters.
Ackerman said she would begin next week. The New York City-based Big East is set to begin business in its new form on July 1. The conference, she said, is seeking to build its staff and find office space in Midtown Manhattan.
“The office, right now, is me and my iPhone,” said Ackerman, adding that she plans to visit the conference’s universities as soon as possible.
“The values the Big East was founded on, and became known for -- basketball excellence, academic integrity -- we plan on building on that heritage,” she said. “While all the sports are important, this will be a basketball-centric organization.”
Other female conference commissioners include Bernadette McGlade of the Atlantic 10 and Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League.
The Big East is comprised largely of Catholic colleges and universities from the old Big East, which is now called the American Athletic Conference.
The league, which retained the rights to the Big East name, includes the so-called Catholic 7, whose presidents voted to leave because they said football-related revenue was becoming too important. The Big East started in 1979 with a focus on basketball.
The holdover schools are Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette and DePaul. They will be joined by Butler, Creighton and Xavier.
“There are some important conversations going on about the proper balance between athletics and academics, the role of commercialism,” Ackerman said, mentioning the lawsuit filed against the National Collegiate Athletic Association by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. “There’s a lot going on in college sports.”
O’Bannon and others are challenging the right of college sports’ governing body, conferences and schools to keep proceeds from selling the rights to athletes’ likenesses in TV broadcasts, video games and on apparel. The plaintiffs say a victory could reduce the $6.4 billion in annual revenue universities earn from athletics by as much as 50 percent.
Ackerman ran the WNBA from 1996 to 2005, when she stepped down. She was a staff attorney for the NBA, and served as the first female president of USA Basketball from 2005 to 2008. She’s a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame board of trustees. She said the conference would explore international opportunities without being specific.
NBA Commissioner David Stern, who appointed Ackerman to start the women’s league, praised her choice as conference chief.
“She brings all of that experience with intelligence, a keen analytical ability, an intense work ethic and a winning management style,” Stern said in an e-mail.
A four-year basketball player at the University of Virginia prior to getting her law degree at UCLA, Ackerman released a report this month commissioned by the NCAA on the state of women’s basketball and possible changes the sport could make to improve popularity and efficiency.
Linda Bruno was the first female commissioner of a major college conference, serving as head of the Atlantic 10 from 1994 to 2008, and was replaced by McGlade. Carolyn Schlie Femovich has been commissioner of the Patriot League since 1999 and Brenda Weare led the Northeast Conference from 2006 until her death in 2009. In 2011, Amy Huchthausen was chosen commissioner of the America East, and Harris has led the Ivy League since 2009.
“It’ll be great to have another female join the commissioner ranks, but first and foremost, her extensive leadership experience and accomplishments give her a perspective that will position the Big East for continued success,” Huchthausen, a former Big East intern, said in an e-mail.
The Big East signed a 12-year television contract this year with Fox Sports, a unit of News Corp. (NWSA:US) The league has agreed to play its season-ending men’s basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York for the next three years.
Ackerman said former Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe, who had been serving as a consultant, has agreed to remain with the conference in the near term. In addition, Joseph D’Antonio, a compliance and governance executive with the old Big East, has agreed to join the new Big East, she said.
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