Sources: Ackerman in talks to lead Big East
Former WNBA president Val Ackerman has emerged as the front-runner for the new Big East commissioner's job, multiple league and industry sources told ESPN.com.
Former WNBA commissioner Val Ackerman is in negotiations to become the next commissioner of the Big East, according to multiple sources.
But the deal was not done as of Thursday night with both sides hoping for a resolution by the beginning of next week. Ackerman was in Switzerland at FIBA meetings this week but is due back stateside this weekend.
The Big East recently had centered on candidates outside of college athletics in Ackerman, Major League Baseball's Tim Brosnan and Boston Celtics president Rich Gotham, a Providence College grad. The Big East wanted to follow the model of the Pac-12, which hired Larry Scott, who had been head of women's professional tennis.
Ackerman just finished writing an extensive report for the NCAA on the state of women's basketball and changes that could bolster the sport's popularity, as well as scoring and scheduling during the busy calendar.
Sources were unclear, though, on whether Ackerman would accept the position. The 10 new Big East presidents from Georgetown, Villanova, Creighton, Xavier, Butler, Seton Hall, Providence, St. John's, Marquette and DePaul have pledged confidentiality to one another, according to multiple league sources. Athletic directors and coaches have been kept in the dark as the presidents have run the search.
The new league starts July 1, and competition begins in August. Each athletic director was assigned a sport to schedule and help organize while the presidents searched for a commissioner.
There is no staff for the new league, but the offices apparently will be in New York. The new Big East will continue to hold its men's basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Ackerman, 53, was the first president of the WNBA. She was a former player at Virginia and then went to law school at UCLA, practicing for two years in the field before going into sports. She served as the head of the WNBA from 1996-2005 before stepping down. She was once a staff attorney for the NBA. She was also instrumental in the USA women's basketball organization. She was the first female president of USA Basketball from 2005-08. She's also on the board of USA Basketball as well as the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
If Ackerman takes the job, it would give the Big East a major player in basketball from all levels of the game. She's also well respected among NCAA members.
The Big East has kept the process incredibly quiet, but multiple sources have said it has made runs at high-ranking officials from MLB, the NBA and in college in the form of WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich and former Big East associate commissioner and current NCAA vice president Dan Gavitt.
Multiple league sources said they were told the commissioner would be hired last week. But that hasn't happened. One source said the movement toward Ackerman had to be slowed while she finished her report on women's basketball. So far that report has been critically acclaimed for its honesty and thorough details.
Hall of Famer and UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma told the Hartford Courant about Ackerman's report: "I think there are some great ideas. I think [Ackerman] is incredibly bright and she has the best interests of the game at heart, and I hope that we can get some of those suggestions acted upon."
Ackerman recommended the women move to a Friday-Sunday Final Four instead of the current Sunday-Tuesday format around the men's Final Four. She also suggested either having the men and women at the same site or all three divisions at one site for the women such as the men did last April. Moving to four quarters instead of two halves and giving the top 32 teams a bye and the other 32 playing a first round are some of the innovative changes she suggested to the NCAA.
Coaches and athletic directors from the league have told ESPN.com that they have been frustrated by the lack of leadership and transparency while awaiting a new leader. There is anxiety about getting the league started. The new Big East already has a television deal with Fox, and expansion isn't a hot topic for the near term with the athletic directors comfortable with 10 schools and a true round-robin in basketball.
If Ackerman lands the job, she would be met with high praise for a league that has been searching for direction since it decided to form.
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