by Liam Tormey ’22
Last Thursday, the Sports Business Organization at Providence College got the opportunity to hear Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. and Athletic Director Bob Driscoll discuss the history of the Big East Conference and the influence that both men had on its formation.
To begin, both guests gave an overview of the roles that they have in sports at PC. Driscoll has been the athletic director at PC for 19 years and says his job is to “create the vision of what a first-class Division I department should look like.” He said that his role as athletic director would not be possible without the support of the president of the College, with that, of course being Fr. Shanley.
Fr. Shanley’s role at PC is far-reaching; however, and sports are a big part of his responsibilities. Fr. Shanley talked about the importance of “hiring smart people and letting them do their own thing.” He also spoke to the fact that he believes that if he needs to get into the “weeds” about someone, then that person is not doing their job. Although, he admits that has never found this to be the case at PC.
Next, Fr. Shanley and Driscoll were asked about both the history of the Big East and the realignment of the conference. The Big East originated in 1979. Fr. Shanley discussed the vision of Dave Gavitt, the former athletic director at PC at the time, and how he saw that northeast basketball was going to fall behind other major conferences unless something was done.
Indeed, in the early stages, many colleges wanted to join the Big East, and the conference had great success. However, the demise of the conference in past 10 years came as many of the big schools left to go to football conferences where all the revenue was.
Fr. Shanley spoke about the meeting at St. John’s University where all of the schools in the Big East got together to discuss how to fix this problem. At the meeting, it was decided that the Big East was going to “chart our own path individually of the football schools.”
A unique opportunity arose with the arrival of Fox Sports 1 and their need for a polished basketball product. The match between the conference and TV broadcaster ended up being perfect, as the Big East Conference received a 12-year contract with Fox which has “been a blessing,” according to Fr. Shanley.
Driscoll added that they were “in the right place at the right time” and “we went back to our roots” regarding the realignment of the Big East. The desire for schools to get into the Big East skyrocketed as presidents and athletic directors bombarded Fr. Shanley and Driscoll with calls to join the Big East.
Being able to play at Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament was also a huge boost for the conference. Both Shanley and Driscoll referred to it as “the Mecca,” saying the ability to have a long-term deal with MSG as the only conference in the country to play at the Garden was very important. Many major conferences still want to play at MSG, but the Big East is still the only conference able to do so, and that is huge from a marketing standpoint for the conference.
Fr. Shanley and Driscoll, were very excited to answer members’ questions about their role in forming the Big East Conference, and both believe the conference is in very good hands for years to come.