As summer passes the midway point, many sports fans thoughts start to turn to the gridiron, both on the professional side with NFL camps opening, and on the collegiate side with the annual series of media days conducted by each major conference in advance of student-athletes reporting later in August. Next week, The Big East will hold its annual football gathering in Newport, Rhode Island, which will be the first with interim commissioner Joe Bailey at the helm. The Big East faces a true transition year in all sports, with some members leaving and a whole crop of new faces from across the country slated to begin coming on board in 2013.
Conference members are hoping for a new vision and a smooth transition for the Big East, which will see its school changes coincide with a new fulltime commissioner and a new television contract, among other upcoming moves. Bailey, one of the most respected sports insiders, has brought a career to the transition that includes leadership positions with the Miami Dolphins, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, World League/NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys, in addition to his current role as Managing Director and the leader of the Global Sport Practice at RJR Partners. He became interim commissioner of The Big East in May and has been proactively beating the drum for conference members new and old as the intercollegiate year 2012-’13 begins in earnest at the end of August.
We caught up with Bailey to talk about The Big East and where it is heading.
Q. You have now been sitting in the Commissioner’s chair for a while, albeit as an interim. What has been the biggest positive and the biggest misconception you have found about where The Big East is today?
A. The deep affection for the BIG EAST. It is as though it is human. Everywhere I go, people really care about an institution the way you care about members of your family.
Q. As someone who has worn many hats over the years…Cowboys, Dolphins, WLAF, thoroughbred racing…how has this differed from past experiences?
A. I have been fortunate to have been part of either building, starting or turning around complex organizations in the global ecosystem of sport for more than 40 years, many with a burning desire to become peak performance organizations, exceeding personal and organizational best. The biggest difference is that the Big East is way more than just a commercial business. It is in higher education. It has a different purpose than say a professional league. But it has to do well in order to do the work of its mission.
Q. With conference realignment, how badly was the Big East brand damaged in the minds of marketers and how quickly can it be repaired?
A. The BIG EAST is the same as it has been, in that the desire for continual improvement by maximizing both the obvious and the hidden assets it has. The recent report to the league by the Boston Consulting Group confirmed the power of the conference as it continues to differentiate itself – nationally and internationally.
Q. The Pac-12 has made big strides trying to bring its brand east, yet when the dust settles the Big East may be the only conference with a national footprint. How is that a positive or a negative to brand partners?
A. It is human nature to embrace any entity which reflects your personal values which are important and seldom change. So when a conference goes through change, there will be the inevitable hand wringing about being different from what it was. It is up to leadership to explain why change occurred and also why it may be better, sometimes through unintended consequences of change. I know for a fact that the Big East is more diverse today, more inclusive and way more interesting and will be very proactive in delivering our messages. The core principles of the brand remain, but it now physically stretches across America. No other conference is like it.
Q. Is there a commonality between schools that are so different, from a Boise State and San Diego State to Providence and Seton Hall?
A. Universities are communities and everyone is different. This conference embraces its diversity in the same way our country does. Large, small, private, public, basketball, basketball/football, men’s/women’s, regions of the United States. That has always been the Big East’s way.
Q. One of the great challenges is football schools vs. non-football schools. Do you need all members to work together and how does that happen with such diversity?
A. But the stickiness is sport. Sport transcends divides, it is a powerful teacher and it brings communities together that nothing else on the face of the earth can do.
Q. Your TV deal is coming up for renewal, although that will be in the hands of the new commissioner, what is the conference looking for in a TV partner?
A. The media negotiations are important for a number of reasons. The conference has objectives that will be met and, perhaps given the current environment, even exceeded.
Q. Of all the departing schools from the conference, the loss of Syracuse may have the biggest impact. How do the incoming schools offset the loss of such a school that was part of the Big East fabric?
A. Syracuse has traded one community for another. Only time will tell whether it will be embraced and loved as it was by the Big East.
Q. Many still regard The Big East…rightfully so…as a basketball powerhouse with football playing members. Is there a conference model you would like to see adopted that gives balance not just to football and basketball but to all sports?
A. I believe in the idea of “dual capability” which is fancy consultant speak for balance. No matter what the Big East is known for today, it will be known for in the future as continually improving across all sports and as a laboratory for leadership.
Q. What are the qualities the league is looking for in a new commissioner? How has the search gone?
A. The next Big East leader will share the vision of the institutions. He or she will have the passion for the work of the conference, will be persuasive in communicating the vision internally and externally, will be surrounded by the very best people, will consider the role as a privilege, and will be totally trusted. This person will be an effective leader who will get the conference where it wants to be quickly and will maintain it through continual improvement. It is a fabulous opportunity and based on the quality of individuals the search committee has seen, the Big East will have a tremendous leader and a steady hand at the tiller for a long time. The conference and all of its followers deserve it.