www.baltimoresun.com/sports/college/basketball/womens/hc-jacobs-column-0824-20120823,0,1309351.column

baltimoresun.com

New Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco Proud Of Connecticut Roots

Jeff Jacobs

10:01 PM EDT, August 23, 2012

Advertisement

Mike Aresco's sister Joanne thought he might be a sports writer.

When they were in their early 20s, after arguing baseball and football for hours, his brother-in-law Rich Magner remembers thinking Aresco's ideal job would be commissioner of Major League Baseball.

"He certainly was bright enough," said Magner, who played Triple A ball in the Dodgers organization in the 1970s and later coached in the minor leagues. "He'd go through every single thing Bowie Kuhn should have been doing."

After all that Aresco went on to accomplish during his television career at ESPN and CBS, after all the deals from major colleges down to rodeo, it seems a little unfair to argue that he will be remembered for the one deal he will negotiate in the coming months.

Yet at age 62, the new Big East commissioner also knows he has been cast as a man who could make or break a conference. After leaving his position as CBS executive vice president for programming, Aresco does not run from that challenge. He agrees that it is hard to overstate the importance of the next Big East TV deal. And then Mike Aresco, the kid from Middletown, the kid from Xavier and UConn Law, says: "With all that has been happening in the college world, which I follow so closely and have such genuine love and interest in, I would hate to be on the sidelines."

Aresco has held the ball before, as an infielder and a quarterback. A fan of the Yankees, Giants, Notre Dame football and UConn basketball, his lifelong passion for sports is undeniable. Joanne remembers the family heading to the beach and young Michael pleading to stay home to watch the Yankees. More than playing and watching sports, Aresco was an honor student who wrote for the school newspaper at Xavier. He was on the debate team. He always had a taste for the battle.

Larry McHugh, the legendary Xavier football coach who would become president of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the UConn Board of Trustees, sent along words of praise the other day to athletic director Warde Manuel, saying the young Aresco was "a tough football guy."

"After Xavier opened [in 1963], if you had a disagreement with a kid, you could have a boxing match," said Magner, the longtime Xavier baseball coach who has been married to Joanne for 39 years. "They only had a couple in the history of the school because everybody realized nobody could box and you'd be a laughingstock. But there was Mike one day after school boxing one of his better friends. They put on the headgear, big gloves and let them bang. Those guys are still friends today."

Forget the fact that Aresco graduated from Tufts magna cum laude in history and later from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy with a master's in international relations. Forget the fact that he graduated from UConn Law and negotiated monstrous CBS March Madness deals and the 15-year agreement with the SEC. Forget even that he runs through names like Wes Bialosuknia and Toby Kimball and his all-time favorite, Nadav Henefeld, and the 1960s Yankees like he just saw them play last night. … When a guy puts on the gloves to battle his buddy to settle a dispute, you've got to think he's qualified to stare into the eyes of ESPN, NBC Sports and Fox and maybe save all that Dave Gavitt and Mike Tranghese built.

"From the outside, I can't see anybody more qualified," Magner said. "Besides everything else, he's a great listener. He's a diplomat."

"He always has been up for a challenge," Joanne said.

Growing up on Barbara Road in Middletown, school was always first in the Aresco home.

"My parents worked in factories," Aresco said. "They were salt of the earth. They worked so hard to give us opportunities they didn't have. They were a huge wind at our backs."

Sebastian worked at Auburn Manufacturing every day at 7 a.m. for years. Anna, born in Italy, would put in 70 hours of work a week, too.

"I just wished Mike's parents were around to appreciate this," Magner said. "They valued education to the max."

"Oh my God," said Joanne, two years younger than Mike. "They would be as proud as they could be."

Aresco introduces the names of Bill Berry, his fourth grade teacher, and Adabelle Whitman, his sixth grade teacher, as inspirations at Bertrand E. Spencer Elementary school. He said Xavier principals Brother Robert Sullivan and Brother John Kerr had enormous impacts.

"I did OK my first year, but not nearly as well as I could have," Aresco said. "Brother Robert called me in and said, 'Your test scores are way up, but your grades really aren't as good. How much are you studying at night?' I said something like an hour. He said, 'You ought to be studying three hours.' ... The point is he really believed in me."

Aresco would graduate third in his class. He received a silver ring for maintaining grades of at least 90 in every subject. He won a poetry award.

"He's a terrific writer," Joanne said.

Aresco was part of the second class at Xavier, so there were no juniors and seniors his freshman year. He was the starting quarterback on the freshman team. He started as a defensive back on the junior varsity. He got into a few varsity football games before dropping it his junior year to concentrate on baseball. He went on to play freshman baseball at Tufts.

"[In initial reports] they kept mentioning I played baseball at Xavier, but I did play a little football," Aresco said, laughing.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa at Tufts, he received a fellowship to Fletcher, where he got his master's. Fletcher is a terrific school for international affairs. Half the students were foreigners. He knew it would be a rich experience that could lead to a job in the government or the foreign service.

Instead, he returned home and enrolled in the night division at UConn Law in Hartford. He substitute taught in the daytime. He worked briefly as an intern for U.S. Senator Robert Griffin of Michigan. He worked as an intern in the Hartford office of the U.S. Attorney for the Connecticut District. He worked in the Hartford Corporation counsel office for Richard Shettle, a big UConn supporter. He began practicing law.

"That's when I met someone from the fledgling ESPN," Aresco said. "It was one of the great serendipitous things in my life, meeting [Steve Saferin], who took an interest in me."

Aresco eventually moved from the law to the programming department. He would oversee more than a dozen sports. Boxing, college football, tennis, bodybuilding, billiards, horse racing and rodeo — if you think the Big East has schools with diverse interests, consider that ESPN portfolio. The man has dealt with Bob Arum and Don King. Aresco became head of all college sports at ESPN. Gavitt became a mentor. Gene Corrigan, former AD at Notre Dame and ACC commissioner, did, too. He called Tranghese one of his closest friends in the business.

Aresco and his wife, Sharon, formerly an attorney at Updike, Kelly & Spellacy and Cummings & Lockwood, moved from West Hartford to Westport when Aresco became vice president at CBS. They tried living in New York to eliminate the commute, realized they liked the green grass better and settled back in Southport. The new job, however, will require that he moves to Providence.

Aresco's stepson Matthew played football and hockey at Conard before going to Cornell and working for Versus. He has his own independent production company in Connecticut. His son Brett, a 2009 Duke graduate, is an aspiring actor in New York.

"I've worked for some of the best people in the history of television at CBS in Leslie Moonves and Sean McManus," Aresco said. "I've loved CBS. But I just felt this is such a unique opportunity. I love college sports. I just couldn't sit on the sidelines."

"He has done bigger deals, huge deals with CBS," Magner said, "and not many people talked about him. But around here, we hang our hats on UConn and the Big East. This is big."

And nobody knows that better than the kid from Middletown.