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Interview with Ron Bertovich

July 16, 2003 Columns No Comments

The Mid-Con’s New Commish

by Adam Shandler

You may not have heard of Ron Bertovich, but you’ve probably seen his work, especially if you live in the Northeast.

As a former A-10 commish, Bertovich was instrumental in getting conference schools some face time on regional and national cable networks. So you might say he brought Calipari and Chaney right to your living room. Bertovich then took his TV savvy with him to the Empire Sports Network, a cable sports service that blankets upstate New York and some parts of New England.

Ron Bertovich

Under his watch, viewers not only got more hockey and college football, but more college hoops, as Mr. Bertovich was able to rub elbows with many of the commissioners and coaches clustered in that region.

After being laid off from his Executive VP of Administration gig with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, Ron Bertovich dusts off his commissioner’s hat and takes the helm of the Mid-Continent Conference — a modest, Midwestern, nine-school league that is sure to benefit from their new leader’s marketing and media know-how. Hoops fans already have a love affair with some of the league’s schools: IUPUI (more affectionately known as “Ooey-Pooey”) and Valparaiso (abbreviated to the gimmicky “Valpo”). Give it time and you’ll hear more references about lesser known institutions like Chicago State, Centenary, Oral Roberts and Oakland.

I had the chance to speak with Mr. Bertovich, the Mid-Con’s fourth commish, on July 15, just a day after he officially started the job.

Adam Shandler: So how have the first few days been?

Ron Bertovich: Very exciting. We have a very solid staff here. The presidents, the athletic directors, the chancellors — they all have showed a great commitment to this league and they’re ready to take it to the next level.

AS: You were recently at the College Commissioners Association Conference in Kentucky. What was discussed at this meeting?

RB: This was our summer meeting. There are actually two that happen during the year. We had lots of discussion about NCAA legislation and proposal. Realignment, of course, although not too much because not a lot has really happened with that yet. But it was a great opportunity for conference commissioners to get together and see each other and exchange ideas. There’s a great camaraderie among all the commissioners.

AS: This has been a tough year for college basketball off the court. What role does a conference commissioner have to play in order to help schools avoid scandals, violations and crimes?

RB: Whatever guidance we can provide to schools on a macro-level basis, we’ll do. But I’m sure you understand, a lot of the problems you’ve been seeing have been happening on an institutional level. So we need to just examine each one on a case-by-case basis.

AS: You have quite a lofty background. You were a commish for the Atlantic 10, Executive VP of Administration for the Buffalo Sabres and Vice President/General Manager for Empire (NY) Sports Network. What attracted you to this position?

RB: Well, I was out of work and needed a job. It’s as simple as that. The Sabres had filed for bankruptcy and we were looking for new ownership, so the Galisano Group came in and I was let go. As is often the case whenever a new owner takes over a business, significant changes were made to upper level management.

But I was very involved with college athletics while at Empire (Sports Network) and HSBC arena. We had broadcasting relationships with conferences like the Big East, the MAAC and even the Mid-American Conference. At HSBC we got regional games for the NCAA tournament as well as the Frozen Four, and even this year regional games for NCAA basketball will come back to HSBC. So I was fortunate enough to maintain relationships with all the commissioners while at HSBC, which helped in getting this job.

AS: Congratulations on no longer being one of the 6.4% in America without a job.

RB: Thank you. My wife thanks you too.

AS: You were very instrumental in getting the A-10 Conference more exposure through TV deals. I know it’s early in your tenure, but do you plan to do the same for the Mid-Con?

RB: From a historical standpoint, the A-10 [being on TV] made a lot of sense. Those schools were in major markets and had very good traditions. At that time large regional cable networks — Empire, Comcast, Prism, even nationals like ESPN and ESPN 2 — needed programming. We were very lucky. The A-10 made a commitment to be on TV. Coaches like [then-UMass coach John] Calipari and [Temple coach Jon] Chaney were great. They said, “We will play any time, anywhere.” Soon you’d see us on cable on Sundays at 4 and on Midnight Madness telecasts. As far as coming here, one of my goals will certainly be to get more TV coverage, and I think we’ll do that with regional cable and with national coverage and non-conference scheduling.

AS: The Mid-Con is currently at nine schools. Any plans to expand to 10? Or even 12?

RB: That’s one of the things we’re looking at and it will certainly be discussed at the [Mid-Con] President’s Meeting. We also want to hang on to the schools we have and protect our automatic qualifier status

AS: What does the Mid-Con have going for it?

RB: Tradition, markets and commitment. You can’t ask for much more than that. The institutions and I are all very glad to be part of this league and we all want to make it work.

AS: Again, it may be to early to be asking this, but does this league have any areas that need improvement?

RB: Look, you can never have enough publicity or exposure, but we are what we are. My goal in the next 60 days is to visit every [Mid-Con] institution, meet with coaches and ADs, research the markets, assess the strong and weak points of every school and come up with a long-term plan for success.


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