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View from the East
Thursday, August 29, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Hamrick, ECU entangled in web of controversy


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 afternoon.

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 Cincinnati-ECU game.

“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 Miss.

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 appearances.

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 stand.

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 rescheduled.

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 C-USA.

“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 black.

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 Coliseum.

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.

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02/23/2007 12:57:37 AM

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