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Big East commish Val Ackerman discusses conference, future of college sports

The commissioner came to campus to give and overview of the new Big East and what the future may hold for all of college sports

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday afternoon, The Philosophy Department hosted a reception for Dan Regan's retirement. Dan served as an assistant professor and Academic Support Faculty Athletic Representative for 49 years. The first speaker of the day was Big East commissioner Val Ackerman who gave a talk entitled "The BIG EAST and its Place in Intercollegiate Athletics." In this talk, she went over how the new conference was able to come together smoothly, the changes that are happening across college sports, and what we may see in the coming years for both the Big East and all of the NCAA.

The new Big East formed when 7 schools decided to withdraw from the conference informally called the "Old Big East." Villanova, Seton Hall, DePaul, Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, and Marquette teamed with Creighton, Xavier and Butler to create a new conference to keep basketball at the forefront. Val also noted that values were also important in the formation of the new conference; the ten schools are made of nine Catholic schools and one private (Butler).

In August of 2013, FOX announced they would be making a new sports network, and would need programming. The Big East saw this as a perfect way to establish an immediate revenue stream and create exposure. The conference was able to keep the championship at Madison Square Garden, and was able to keep the BIG EAST name.

The conference recently launched the Big East Digital Network (BEDN). Val noted that the number of people that are watching events on their smartphones is on a sharp rise. BEDN, along with Fox Sports' digital platform Fox Sports Go, will stream over 200 sporting events in the 2015-2016 season.

Fox Sports is also on the rise, securing deals with Major League Soccer and PGA. FOX has also began FIFA programming, including the Women's World Cup.

She noted that the role of the conference is all off-campus: managing TV deals, securing sponsors, hosting the championships in 22 sports. The top executives of the conference have started new initiatives: the previously mentioned BEDN from scratch, the conference office, and the new push for corporate social responsibility. The last goes along with the inaugural President's Award that Villanova won two months ago, along with the new "Big East Serves" program.

In the second part of the talk, she outlined the changes in the national landscape of college sports. Data and technology are rapidly integrating into university life; the aforementioned smartphone usage, analytics in sports, daily fantasy leagues, social media, and e-sport competitions (computer gaming).

Sports and society are being intertwined more than ever, with social media being a major factor. Student activism is as alive as ever as we have seen with the Missouri football team which caused the resignation of the president and chancellor.

The "It's On Us" campaign is a national awareness from the White House to end sexual violence on campus. All Big East schools had a Fall Week of Action that spread this message to students.

Health and safety concerns are on the rise, especially with concussions. The NCAA Sports Science Institute performs research in that area as well as nutrition, doping, and many others.

A new event that Val announced is an international conference "Sport at the Service of Humanity." This will be hosted next year in conjunction with the United Nations and International Olympic Committee in the Vatican. Discussion will include the values of sport, faith, and to promote social change. The Pope, an avid soccer fan from Argentina, believes this new conference can be constructive to the meaning of sports. A major theme will be tying sports and fun, a component believed to be more absent with the bigger emphasis on winning. Val was chosen to be on the planning committee for this inaugural event, and will be creating the agenda.

Val concluded by saying that the conference is in a unique position with respect to not only with the Power 5 but the rest of the NCAA. This is due to the athletics, academics and engagement with the community that they push. She noted that the commercial value of NCAA Football is growing, and the wealth gap will continue between the Power 5 and the rest will also grow, however she believes the Big East is in a good spot compared to the other non-Power 5 because of the Fox Sports deal and the close ties the schools feel to each other.

It's worth noting that during the Q&A that followed, a student asked about possible conference expansion. She said they really like the idea of ten teams because of the convenient home and away possibility with basketball conference play. She added that Father Peter is in favor of having ten schools. She mentioned the similar values once more, with the nine Catholic and one private school. If the conference were to expand, Val asserted that it should be for a "good reason." She contemplated welcoming one more school to keep the home and away convenience, however if one more were to join they are most likely to welcome two to bring a total to twelve. In all, it seems like expansion is not in the plans for the near future.