Sports talk radio in Raleigh had something to talk about on Wednesday —
the ban on East Carolina football recruiters by three high schools in
reaction to the Pirates’ Friday night home game with Cincinnati on Dec. 6.
That, as we all know by now, is the same night as the semifinals of the
state high school playoffs. The decision to move the game has meant some
major heat for East Carolina and its athletics director, Mike Hamrick, but
it’s a decision the Pirates can take to the bank.
The most significant recent reactions have been declarations by High
Point Central, Southern Durham and Williamston high schools that ECU
football recruiters will not be welcome on their campuses.
At a time when the focus needs to be on preparing for Saturday’s season
opener at Duke, Pirates coach Steve Logan has been worried that ECU’s
in-state recruiting base will suffer significant erosion. Increasing ECU’s
in-state recruits has been a priority during his tenure.
The Dec. 6 game also will conflict with a traditional recruiting weekend
the Pirates have emphasized the first weekend in December, another source of
anxiety for the ECU coach.
Hamrick agreed in July to move the game from Saturday, Nov. 2, because of
pressure from Conference USA to fulfill its television contract with ESPN.
Compounding the public relations difficulty of the issue for Hamrick has
been the fact that he flatly stated a year ago that ECU would not play on
Friday night if it conflicted with high school games.
Hamrick is in a position he wishes he had been able to avoid.
“We’re not for playing football on Friday night,” Hamrick said. “We
changed the game time last year and it probably cost us $100,000 in ticket
revenue. We’re all for saving Friday night for high school football. My dad
was a high school football coach for years and was executive secretary of
the West Virginia High School Athletic Association. I have two boys in the
football program at [Greenville] Rose High. The last thing I want to do is
hurt high school football.”
Logan’s contract stipulates that he be involved on rescheduling of games
while stating that Hamrick has final authority on scheduling matters. Logan
said he wasn’t notified of the change until the media relations department
representative brought him a statement announcing that the game had been
moved. Logan was sitting in his office. The release went public that
Hamrick had stated his intentions to avoid Friday night games last year when
the Pirates were initially scheduled to play Southern Miss in a televised
game on a Friday night, Nov. 23, in Greenville. That game was subsequently
shifted to an 11 a.m. kickoff.
Danny Kinlaw, a member of the ECU board of trustees and chairman of the
trustees’ athletics committee, feels strongly that the Pirates should not
play on high school football’s traditional night and blames Hamrick.
“You don’t go around kicking people in the face,” Kinlaw said. “[High
schools] are our support, our feeder system. ... This is not East Carolina.
This is Mike Hamrick’s deal. This is not East Carolina’s deal. We have
responsibility for it, but this is all his deal.”
Mystifyingly, N.C. State’s first home basketball game on a Friday night,
a high school football night, Nov. 22, is to be televised on Fox Sports Net
from the Entertainment and Sports Arena and is not viewed with the same degree
of reproach by high school interests.
Dennis Helsel, an associate commissioner for C-USA, said Hamrick was
correct in saying he had very little choice about switching the
“There’s very little option when your television partner wants to make a
change,” Helsel said.
Chancellor William Muse said Hamrick unsuccessfully sought to avoid the
Friday night kickoff.
“I know Mike pursued every option to play on Saturday and they
[television interests] would not agree,” Muse said. “That [Dec. 6] was the
only slot available.”
C-USA has an 8-year, $80-million contract with ESPN and has played games
during the week for exposure and revenue. ECU played on a Tuesday night at
Texas Christian last year, at home against Louisville on a Thursday night
last season and on the Friday after Thanksgiving at home against Southern
C-USA is not directly included in the bowl championship series (BCS) and
C-USA teams therefore lack the significant revenue that inclusion presents.
The shift of the Cincinnati-ECU game also was necessary in order that
Cincinnati-Louisville, originally set for Nov. 9, could be televised on
Thurs., Nov. 7.
“The rule is that both teams have to have played the weekend or Thursday
before a Thursday night game,” Helsel explained. “Louisville is open the
week before. So to be able to do Cincinnati-Louisville on Thursday night,
you needed to free up Cincinnati on that Saturday [Nov. 2]. There was more
input than just East Carolina in Mike’s decision and he was encouraged to be
a team player for the conference.”
When ECU’s initial 2002 schedule was released, all of the Pirates games
were on Saturdays and none were to be televised on C-USA’s package on ESPN.
That situation represented a decrease in television revenue of $377,097 from
last year when ECU appeared four times during the regular season on the ESPN
networks and received $757,097 in league television revenue. C-USA splits 50
percent of its football television revenue evenly among its 10 football
playing members and the other 50 percent is divided based on television
Hamrick was looking at a significant decrease in revenue in the athletic
budget from football television money as well as increased expenditures in
other areas when the financial advantage of moving the Cincinnati game was
presented. Scholarship costs have increased $436,969 in all sports at ECU
from last year. Logan gets a $75,000 boost on his media income — including
radio and television coach’s shows — this year and the total salaries of the
football assistant coaches have been raised $52,935.
Hamrick has also kept former baseball coach Keith LeClair on the payroll
as an advisor as he fights amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a salary
commitment of $100,000 annually.
Travel costs for ECU teams increased with their full membership in
2001-02 in geographically-diverse C-USA. The television revenue of the
Cincinnati game has been estimated at $160,000 although it could mean as
much as $200,000 in the ECU coffers.
Helsel said Hamrick’s willingness to cooperate with ESPN on this year’s
football schedule enhances the network’s consideration of ECU for future
exposure. A refusal to play on Dec. 6 might have damaged ECU’s relationship
with the network.
ECU will make its first national television appearance in men’s
basketball since 1995 when the Pirates host Louisville on Jan. 16 on ESPN 2
— which was announced three weeks after Hamrick relented on his Friday night
Hamrick indicated that ECU has been assured of an ESPN football
appearance this season or next season and that ECU will play at Virginia
Tech in the Black Coaches Association game in 2004 — a game coordinated by
ESPN — with a guarantee of $850,000.
Amendments to Hamrick’s contract suggested this year by Muse and approved
by the board of trustees reward the athletics director with a $25,000 bonus
or 10 percent of the net profit for the athletic department in its fiscal
year — whichever is less. Muse said he didn’t think Hamrick was personally
motivated by the contract amendment when the Cincinnati-ECU game was
Hamrick, who came to ECU in 1995, said the athletic department has
consistently broken even budgetarily during his administration.
Contract amendments also reward Hamrick for graduation rates for athletes
above those of the student body, compliance with the NCAA and success in
“What I suggested was similar to what the athletics director had at
Auburn when I was there,” Muse said. “It addresses the expectations we have
for the athletic department. Mike did not ask for this at all.”
ECU in general and Hamrick in particular didn’t ask for the Friday night
game either, but he has gotten plenty from it — in terms of both criticism
and revenue. The bottom line is that Hamrick didn’t keep his word but his
thinking is that it was more important to keep the athletic budget in the
As bad as the situation is perceived by some in terms of ECU’s integrity,
consider that the Pirates’ initial men’s basketball schedule had two home
games with Marquette (March 5) and Saint Louis (March 8) in conflict with
the high school basketball regionals (March 5-8) at Williams Arena at Minges
Hamrick said the dates for those ECU home games will be moved.
“The high schools have priority that week,” Hamrick said. “That’s a
scheduling mistake we will correct. We’ve already been in communication with
the conference and those games will be moved.”
Imagine how strained ECU’s relations might have been if the high schools
had been evicted from the regional site they have enjoyed for years.