"Intercollegiate athletics are more sophisticated now than ever. Those skills I learned at Bloomsburg and my MBA program are very relevant today." — Vince Nicastro '87
Talk about leaving on a high note.
When Kris Jenkins hit a spectacular buzzer-beater to clinch the NCAA men’s basketball championship in 2016 for Villanova, the historic university on Philadelphia’s tony Main Line became the little school that could. The team’s near-flawless performance and grit helped it edge out perennial powerhouse University of North Carolina and was sweet validation for Coach Jay Wright, and the BU graduate credited with hiring him.
Vince Nicastro graduated from BU in 1987, and served as Villanova’s director of athletics from 2000 to 2015. He built a successful career as the school’s director of athletics before being named associate director of the Jeffrey Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at Villanova’s School of Law in June 2015. As an adjunct professor teaching sports law, he imparted lessons on everything from concussion protocols and coaching salaries to handling sexual abuse allegations, transfer rights and antitrust actions.
“I like that the environment is different in higher education than in professional sports, in that the focus is not always on the bottom line,’’ he said. “It’s about the education and development of young people and to me that becomes a very fulfilling environment and paved my way to a long career in college athletics.’’
His career trajectory took another leap when he was appointed to the newly created post of deputy commissioner and chief operating officer for the Big East Conference in New York City, beginning in June 2016. He now oversees conference operations, including finances, marketing and sales under Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, and alongside Stu Jackson (senior associate commissioner for men’s basketball) and Tracy Ellis-Ward (associate commissioner for women’s basketball).
It is another professional slam dunk for the Bucks County native who majored in business administration and accounting at BU. Athletics and accounting may seem like an unlikely match, but in the complicated world of intercollegiate sports, business savvy is a must, Nicastro said. In the days when few colleges had sports administration programs, Nicastro knew college sports administrators were usually retired football coaches, but he opted to follow a path less taken.
“My original goal was to work in baseball. I landed an internship working in Williamsport for a minor-league team, The Bills, in 1989. The internship became a full-time job until the franchise was sold. I was hired by St. Joe’s in the fall of 1990 to handle ticketing, sales and marketing and spent four years there earning my MBA as an added bonus.”
“Intercollegiate athletics are more sophisticated now than ever,” Nicastro said. “Those skills I learned at Bloomsburg and my MBA program are very relevant today.”
Nicastro started at Villanova in 1994 as director of ticket operations and quickly earned a promotion to director of athletics. His two key goals were to find the best and brightest coaches and to develop the finest training facilities for the teams. He led the department through an impressive period at Villanova. The men’s basketball program appeared in 10 NCAA tournaments, including a Final Four in 2009. The Wildcats also won several national championships in football and women’s cross country. And then of course, there was that remarkable 2016 basketball victory over UNC.
But of course it was not only about the victories on the field or court. Nicastro and the Villanova culture emphasized academics as well.
“The hardest part of the job were the people issues, not the business issues. I often held college coaches’ and student-athletes’ futures in my hands. Or I had to deliver bad news, dealing with players’ eligibility, a coach’s job, or an athlete’s personal crisis that I had to help manage.”
Then came the opportunity to teach in the law school at Villanova and find a measure of predictability in his life.
“It was really refreshing to be able to do something different but stay at Villanova and stay engaged in the world of college athletics but out of the day-to-day grind.”
Now, Nicastro organizes conference championships, handles the business functions of the conference, and manages relations with Fox Sports, their exclusive broadcast partner. He notes the rapidly changing sports and media landscapes.
“I am a big believer in sports enriching the scholastic experience and leading student-athletes on the road to self-discovery, if you can set aside the thorny litigation and consolidation issues that have complicated the game,” Nicastro said. “I have never had a grand plan. I was just afforded these amazing opportunities at these terrific places, terrific universities and terrific organizations. I’ve been really blessed. It’s probably exceeded my expectations with regard to where I am today.”
Nicastro and his wife, Liz, have twin boys, Jake and Casey, who will turn 16 in June. And yes, they play sports: football, track and field, and basketball.