Dr. Ted Aceto, 82, the longest-tenured athletic director in Villanova history whose 19-year career on the Main Line included the university’s admittance into the Big East Conference, 1985 men’s basketball national championship and the loss and rebirth of the football program, died Thursday night of aspiration pneumonia at his Villanova home.
“This is a sad day for all of us in Villanova athletics,” vice president and athletic director Mark Jackson said in a university statement. “In the course of nearly two decades, Dr. Aceto guided our department into the modern era of college athletics. He was instrumental in bringing Villanova into the Big East and helping the conference quickly make its mark on the national scene.”
A native of Camden and a graduate of Gloucester Catholic High School, Dr. Aceto played football at Villanova and quarterbacked the Wildcats’ final two bowl teams in the 1961 Sun Bowl and the 1962 Liberty Bowl. He earned his undergraduate and masters degrees from Villanova and a PhD from Bowling Green State University. He returned to his alma mater in 1974 as athletic director and remained in that role until 1993.
The Wildcats played for four seasons in the Eastern Athletic Association, the forerunner of the Atlantic 10 Conference, before moving to the Big East in 1980, a conference that quickly grew into one of the top basketball conferences in the country. Villanova won five commissioner trophies for the best overall performance in Big East-sponsored sports during Dr. Aceto’s tenure.
Basketball provided the crowning achievement in Villanova athletics to that point five years later when the Wildcats, coached by Rollie Massimino, pulled off a massive 66-64 upset of No. 1 Georgetown in Lexington, Ky., to win the national championship. The team reached the Elite Eight in 1983 and 1988 and moved into its new 6,500-seat home, the Pavilion, on Feb. 1, 1986.
Villanova also won national championships in men’s indoor track and field in 1979 and women’s cross-country in 1989.
Dr. Aceto watched over the end of the Villanova football program in 1981 and its return in 1983. He hired Andy Talley as the new program’s head football coach, and Talley led the Wildcats to 226 victories, 11 post-season playoff appearances and the national championship in 2009.
“We have lost a great Villanovan,” Talley said. “Ted hired me and gave me the resources and guidance to rebuild the Villanova football program. He was a leader on the field as a great quarterback and later rebuilt the athletic program into a national treasure. Ted will be greatly missed.”
Women’s basketball excelled under Harry Perretta, whom Dr. Aceto hired as head coach in 1978. Perretta retired at the end of last season after 42 years, winning 782 games and leading the Wildcats to 11 NCAA tournaments and 12 appearances in the WNIT.
“Villanova lost a loyal member of the Wildcat family,” Perretta said. “Ted was a kind and considerate man who cared a great deal for all the Villanova student-athletes and everyone that worked for him. I am incredibly grateful to Ted for giving me the opportunity to get into college coaching.”
Dr. Aceto left Villanova in 1993 and took the job as athletic director of Florida International University. He abruptly resigned his position in February 1997 and returned north, later taking a job as assistant principal and athletic director at Marple Newtown High School. He retired in 2007.
Kristen Corrigan, his daughter, said she and her brother enjoyed accompanying their father to the Palestra for Big Five games when she was growing up.
“Those are my greatest memories, going to the Palestra, eating a soft pretzel with him,” she said. “My brother would keep stats on every single game. We tried to go to as many basketball games as we could and the Palestra and Big Five basketball was fantastic. We would travel with him to away games.”
In addition to his daughter and her husband, North Carolina State athletic director Boo Corrigan of Raleigh, N.C., Dr. Aceto is survived by his wife, Mary; his son, Ted, and his wife, Suzanne, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and six grandchildren.
Relatives and friends are invited to his viewing Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at St. Thomas of Villanova Church, 800 Lancaster Ave., with a Funeral Mass immediately following. Interment is private.