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Penn State in the Big East?

bigeastpenn-state-logoIt could have happened. Just one vote short.

On March 9th, Pete Thamel, of the New York Times’ The Quad blog, interviewed outgoing Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese.

Tranghese, in his 19th year as The Commish, has been a part of the Big East administration since its inception. In the interview, Thamel asks him about the time Penn State almost joined the Big East.

Q: 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?

A: 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, the first Big East comissioner] 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.

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.

Ok. So, with one vote, Penn State would have become a member of the Big East, all of this, of course, before Old State joined the Big Ten. To make this a little more relevant for you, some Big East athletic directors didn’t want Penn State to join because a) State College isn’t a big media market, and b) Penn State did not have a good basketball program.

That was back in 1982. Fast forward 27 years and Penn State has just been snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, supposedly because they didn’t have a quality non-conference schedule. Let’s think now. If Penn State had been in the Big East for the past few decades, its basketball recruiting would almost certainly be better than it is now. The caliber of the team would have been greater. Penn State would be playing against the Big East, for goodness sake!

If they pulled the record there that they pulled in the Big Ten, regardless of the non-conference schedule, they would have certainly been in the Tournment. In fact, getting into the Big Dance probably wouldn’t be as big a deal as it would have been this year, had they made it.

Just one vote, my friends, is all it takes.


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About the Author

Eli Glazier

Eli is a junior majoring in International Politics. He enjoys paninis and books.

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