Big East commissioner, a double Tufts grad, reflects on his journey to the top
Aresco’s new job is his toughest challenge yet
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 07:10
Mike Aresco (LA ’72, F ’73) doesn’t get much time to stop and reflect these days. In August, he was named commissioner of a Big East Conference in turmoil, and since then he’s been in the media and all over the country, explaining his vision for the conference’s future and attempting to work out a new TV deal.
But when given a moment to look back on how he went from a son of factory workers in Middletown, Conn. to the leader of a major college sports conference, Aresco spoke fondly — nostalgically, even — of his time on the Hill, both as an undergraduate and a Fletcher student.
“I was a good student in high school, but I think relatively unsophisticated,” Aresco said. “When I got to Tufts, it opened up a new world — the sophistication, the people, the professors. Tufts was a place that challenged students to think.”
A history major, Aresco became a self−proclaimed voracious reader, and today, the lectures of certain professors still stand out in his mind. Dan Mulholland, he said, was as articulate and interesting as any professor he ever had. And Sol Gittleman, with whom Aresco has kept in touch via email, was “absolutely terrific.”
Outside the classroom, Aresco lived in Carmichael his freshman year and played freshman baseball, though the rest of his career was spent playing intramurals.
Perhaps his bravest venture was working with a group of men to resurrect the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, located in the university−owned house that is now the Africana Center.
After one year, the fraternity had worn out its welcome, but the university allowed them to live in the house for a second year. In two years living on a tight budget, conditions weren’t always ideal, but Aresco and his brothers made do.
“That was a unique experience,” Aresco said. “We subsisted on hamburgers a lot, and our dining budget was always exhausted. During Pledge Week, we’d try to buy steaks for everybody, and by the time we finished, we didn’t have any budget left.”
By the time he graduated from the Fletcher School with a Master of Arts in 1973, Aresco, like any true liberal arts student, was not sure where to go.
“In the early part of my young adulthood, I ran away from a lot of careers,” Aresco said. “I had the opportunity to do several things, and I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to do.”
Ultimately, though he wasn’t sure that he wanted to become a lawyer, Aresco decided to go to law school at UConn. After that, he worked for an insurance company for a few years.
Then, suddenly, he got his big break: He met someone at ESPN.
“It was a serendipitous thing,” Aresco said. “But some people thought I was crazy. [They said,] “Why would you join a place that’s going to fail?’ And I said, ‘No, I think ESPN’s got a good plan.’”
In his 12 years at ESPN, Aresco climbed the ladder — from counsel, to assistant general counsel, to the programming department and ultimately to a role developing long−term strategies for ESPN’s college sports properties.
From there, he became CBS Sports’ executive vice president of programming, a position he held from 1996 until this year.
After 30−plus years working in the college sports world, he was finally offered his biggest position yet: Big East Commissioner.
“This was a new challenge that I really wanted to do when the opportunity arose,” Aresco said. “I didn’t know it would arise, but it did, and it was something that my entire career had prepared me to do.”
Aresco was thrown right into the fire after some disappointing announcements. Syracuse and Pittsburgh would both be leaving for the ACC in 2013. Last month, Notre Dame announced that it too will be leaving for the ACC in all sports but football.
“I knew there would be no honeymoon at this job,” Aresco said. “But the transition was easier because I had been in this community for many years. There’s a lot of work, but it’s energized me.”
Unlike at CBS, Aresco is now constantly in the public eye.
“That’s the biggest difference,” he said. “You’re in the public eye a bit when you’re at a broadcast network — you deal with the media. But it’s not the same as being in a public position like this ... You become more of a public figure, and you have to adapt to that.”
If anyone is ready to adapt, it’s Aresco; if he could live off hamburgers for two years, he could do just about anything.
“The experience at Tufts was a springboard,” he said. “It prepared me for challenges to come, and I never felt anywhere I went that I couldn’t deal with the situation.”