Jersey Roots: Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman has long history in sports, beginning in the Garden State
As New Jersey celebrates Women’s History Month, News 12 New Jersey spoke with Jersey native Val Ackerman who is the current commissioner of the Big East.
Ackerman is overseeing the return of men’s and women’s basketball league tournaments this week, all while dealing with the current state of sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. She says that it has been one of the biggest challenges that she has ever faced.
“What a year it’s been. It’s very unexpected what we’re still dealing with a year later, with COVID uncertainties and front and center safety concerns with our athletes,” she says.
Ackerman has been the Big East commissioner since 2013. But her journey began in Pennington. She was a three-sport athlete at Hopewell Valley Central High School. She credits her father Randy Ackerman for inspiring her passion for sports.
“My dad was the [athletic director] at the high school. So it was very cool to be able to pop into his office during the day and he really was the reason I’m in sports now. He was a role model in many ways,” she says.
Ackerman attended the University of Virginia on a basketball scholarship and earned a law degree from UCLA. After working as an attorney for the NBA, she went on to build the WNBA and was the league’s founding president from 1996 until 2005.
“The early years were really incredible. We did so well with our fan support, because it was time for women’s basketball to make it at the pro level,” Ackerman says.
She then went international and was the president of USA Basketball until 2008.
“USA Women’s basketball Olympic team is going for their seventh gold medal, and I was part of the early years of the development of that program, so that’s a source of pride for me,” she says.
While Ackerman says that there is still work to be done when it comes to women in leadership roles within sports organizations, she says that she is happy with the progress that has been made.
“Since I was an athlete at Hopewell Valley and UVA and so many people accepting that women are great role models and that women’s sports is great entertainment, is a far cry from where we were a quarter of a century ago and I’m proud to see it and glad to see it,” she says.
The women’s Big East Tournament final began Monday night between UConn and Marquette. The men’s tournament tips off on Wednesday.