There was a time not long ago when Gene Corrigan was perceived as an enemy by some folks in WAC country, especially in the state of Utah. After all, he was the one responsible for the infamous Bowl Alliance.
Now, as leaders at BYU, Utah and six other schools pull out of the WAC, Corrigan may be their biggest ally.The task of creating a new intercollegiate athletic conference is daunting, but officials at the eight breakaway WAC schools scored a major coup when Corrigan agreed to be a consultant for the group. They couldn't have found anyone better than Corrigan. Nobody can match his distinguished resume.
At 70, the former Notre Dame athletic director, commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA president has been there, done that in college athletics. Prior to his retirement one year ago, he was one of the most influential executives in the NCAA. The last time he was in the public spotlight, 2,600 delegates at the NCAA convention gave him a standing ovation. He's had it all: power, connections, prestige, respect. Come to think of it, those are precisely things the new conference is desperately seeking.
"We're trying to get the best people to help us," said Utah athletic director Chris Hill.
Corrigan will be in attendance when members of the yet-to-be-named league's transition team meet Monday at the MGM Grand hotel-casino to discuss key issues regarding the future.
"It sounded like something I'd enjoy doing," said Corrigan, who adds he is not interested in the full-time commissioner's job.
"I've worn a lot of different hats in my career. I've never had a job I didn't love. Whether it was teaching Latin and coaching in high school, to being in college athletics to what I'm going to be doing this week." Corrigan says he's no stranger to the schools involved in breaking away from the WAC and counts many of the new conference's ADs and presidents as friends.
By tapping into his expertise, the transition committee hopes it will build a solid foundation for success.
"Gene has a tremendous amount of experience," said Hill, who chairs the transition team and was the one who contacted Corrigan about the consulting position. "He's well-respected and somebody who can point us in the right direction. This is perfect for what his abilities are."
Though the official breakup is currently stuck in a legal quagmire, the transition team has received permission to move ahead in preparation for the 1999-2000 season. A settlement between the presidents of the splitting factions is expected, but probably not anytime soon.
According to WAC bylaws, the departing schools need to officially withdraw by the Sept. 1 deadline. "It's in the hands of the presidents," Hill said. "As far as I know, they are in the process of doing that."
In the meantime, the clock is ticking and the new conference must move swiftly, if it is to survive and thrive, by securing TV deals and guaranteed bowl bids as well as setting in place conference governance.
That's why Corrigan is the right man for this consulting job.
While at Notre Dame, he was the architect of an unprecedented television pact with NBC to televise Fighting Irish basketball games. A few years later, the school signed a controversial football deal with the network.
During his tenure as ACC commish, he was instrumental in devising a revenue-sharing plan for the nine schools and brokered a five-year TV deal with ABC and ESPN for the conference, a package worth in excess of $80 million.
And, yes, the Bowl Alliance was Corrigan's brainchild. That would be the same Bowl Alliance that snubbed a 13-1 BYU football team from a major bowl game in 1996. That exclusion cost the financially strapped WAC about $8 million in sorely needed revenue.
But Corrigan insists he was on the WAC's side on that issue.
"I really wanted (BYU) in (the Bowl Alliance) that year. I did everything I could to get them in," he said. "In fact, I made a pest of myself. I felt they should have been taken. It was a gross mistake they were not. It was a gross injustice."
Hill says the transition team, which has been divided up into a few subcommittees, will be discussing the new conference's governance structure, bowls and television contracts, the new commissioner, the name of the new conference and marketing strategies.
"We'll have the different committees make their reports and assess where we need to go in the next two months," Hill said.