College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Thursday, July 3, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
TV geography might be ECU's
As the Big East plans its future one factor that it should
consider in the aftermath of its losses to the Atlantic Coast Conference is
that it will no longer have a presence in the mid-Atlantic region, a
position previously held down by departing Virginia Tech.
In the great scramble to annex television markets that has
driven the start of the domino process of conference realignment, East
Carolina represents a connection to Tidewater Virginia and key metropolitan
areas in North Carolina. That alone makes the Pirates a desirable quantity by
a measuring standard some have described as a potential weakness in what ECU
brings to the table.
Losing Miami and Virginia Tech, its two Southern outposts,
makes the Big East much less of a national entity and much more of a
Logical answer for two leagues
The Big East also needs to evaluate its standing in terms of
an automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series when that pact expires after the 2005 season. Providing the BCS itself survives
with a new contractual agreement, the Big East may keep a bid for its
champion by replacing the quality that the Hokies and Hurricanes represented
That situation should be in the forefront of conversations
between a rebuilding Big East and Conference USA. C-USA, of course,
currently lacks direct access to the BCS and that is the driving force in
ECU’s interest in a new conference home. That’s what makes a limited merger
of the Big East and C-USA mutually beneficial.
Six teams from C-USA could form one division and the six
remaining football-playing schools in the Big East could comprise another.
The two division champions could meet in a financially-rewarding league
championship game with the winner advancing to the big BCS payday, provided
the present system is perpetuated.
The C-USA-based division could include Louisville, East
Carolina, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida and Southern Miss.
Charlotte, DePaul, Marquette and Saint Louis from C-USA
could combine with the Big East’s Georgetown, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton
Hall, St. John’s and Villanova to form an exceptional basketball alignment.
Economics, geography will guide the rest
What happens to the remaining
football-playing members and non-football playing programs in C-USA?
Army may want out of its football-only status. The Cadets
may be content to resume their football independence, which could allow them
to be more competitive than they have been within C-USA.
UAB, Tulane and Houston all face problems in terms of fan
support. The hard reality is that college athletics has become a matter of
survival of the fittest and that doesn’t preclude the possibility that the
programs that bring fewer resources to the table may be forced to find other
“Our worst fear is that we’ll wind up in the Sun Belt,” said
one UAB source.
One assurance that both C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky
and Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese have made is that the potential
realignment process will be executed in a deliberate and well-thought out
Presumably that means there will be consideration for those
schools who stand to be adversely affected in any shuffling.
Along those lines, the Big East needs to approach its own
potential expansion very carefully in terms of its current lawsuit against
the ACC. Any behavior resembling that which has resulted in its suit
against the ACC might weaken the Big East’s legal position.
Texas Christian enters 2003 as C-USA’s premier football
program, but geography may relegate the school to another conference. No
need for worry, though, because the Horned Frogs would likely have more than
one reasonable option when they choose their new league.
In addition to sponsoring a quality product on the gridiron, TCU
has another valuable chip to play — its new role as a bowl host. That
factor may be influential in the bargaining process because bowl
ties are a desirable commodity for any league.
Pirate athletics poised to
East Carolina has a lot to offer in the realignment end-game.
At the top of the list is football — the sport that happens to be driving the
whole conference-shuffling process — which has been solidly entrenched for decades as the
school's flagship program, one around which fans and alumni rally with a
fervor unique among the state of North Carolina's I-A programs.
ECU has demonstrated a tangible commitment to improve in
basketball and has long fielded a strong baseball team with a loyal
following. The Pirates' major facilities have improved greatly in the last
10 years and more big capital expenditures are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, the
school's athletic department budget has practically doubled.
Outside the on-the-field framework, the Pirates can point to
excellent graduation rates and a record of conformity to NCAA regulations.
Those attributes do not mean that school officials can
hold back and not take a proactive role on their own behalf in the conference
expansion process. One astute player on the ECU scene has recommended
consulting a New York public relations firm to enhance the Pirates’
presentation to Big East presidents.
ECU shouldn’t count on a grassroots campaign to make its
case to the ACC either. Chancellor William Muse should call Governor Mike
Easley, Senate leader Marc Basnight and university system president Molly
Broad and indicate his appreciation of efforts on their part that would
enhance the school's athletic pursuits and the financial prospects of many
of the region's businesses.
With the potential economic advantages to Eastern North
Carolina of ECU’s possible inclusion in the ACC or Big East, the governor
and other state leaders should feel obligated to take an active role.
Ask Virginia Tech about the value of such intercession by
ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick could extend an
invitation to ACC commissioner Johnny Swofford to be his guest at the North
Carolina-ECU football game in Greenville on Oct. 11. Swofford could see the
significant facility improvements for himself. Favorable impressions could
be valuable to the Pirates if the ACC wants to add a 12th team and such
targets as Notre Dame and Kentucky don’t work out.
The Pirates have a lot to offer and a well-managed,
orchestrated effort is needed to make sure the right people are aware of all
of those attributes. ECU is poised to continue its remarkable growth in
athletics. It just needs to find the best place to do it.
Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.
Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville
02/23/2007 12:40:29 AM