College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, July 14, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
ECU football season takes on
The arrival of new football coach John Thompson, the
demanding 2003 football schedule and a potential move to another conference
have been exciting but seemingly separate elements for East Carolina fans to
ponder during the offseason.
As the season gets closer with non-conference games against
two teams currently in the Big East Conference (West Virginia and Miami) and
two against Atlantic Coast Conference teams (Wake Forest and North
Carolina), the factors begin to merge.
The ACC and Big East are at least possibilities for the
Pirates. The ACC is a long shot and the Big East doesn’t look like it has
determined its course. The 2003 season gives ECU a chance to raise the
perception of its football program in some potentially important places
while expansion continues to simmer. Within Conference USA, the Pirates can
improve their standing as a desirable entity compared to other teams in the
“The more successful we are in both our football and
basketball seasons this next year, the more attractive we’ll be if that
opening exists in another conference,” said ECU chancellor WIlliam V. Muse.
“This is probably the toughest schedule we’ve had in a long time in
“Of course, we’ve got a new coach and coaching staff. I
think our expectations for the season are realistic. We recognize that the
coaching changeover and recognize the schedule we have and the talent we
have, so I’m not trying to put any kind of pressure on Coach (John)
Thompson. I know he and his staff will do the best job they can. And I know
the kids will give it their very best on the field.
“But it certainly would be good if we had a good season,” he
added with a slight chuckle.
Thompson laughed, too, at the prospect of attaching even
more meaning to the matchups in his first season as a college head coach.
When he took the ECU job in December, Thompson had no idea he might be
carrying the Pirates banner in terms of future conference affiliation.
“Every game’s got enough weight on it as it is already,” he
said. “I don’t look at it like that at all. I don’t think our players or our
coaches would look at it like that. Our responsibility, our role in all of
this is to be the best football program we can be. Right now, it’s be the
best football program and win as many games as we can in Conference USA or
whatever conference we’re ever in. Whether it’s non-conference or
in-conference, be the best program we can be and that means winning.
“That means putting a quality product on the field, having a
quality product off the field with our guys doing the right things — getting
an education, graduating — doing those kinds of things, but it ultimately
comes down to also winning the games. If it’s against Conference USA, Big
East or ACC, whomever — win the games and good things are going to happen.”
Muse was president at Akron when that institution moved from
the Ohio Valley Conference to Division I-A and independent status. The Zips
ultimately moved to the Mid-American Conference. The point is that Muse has
been close to a conference shift as ECU may be dealing with at some point in
Athletics have been requiring an inordinate amount of Muse’s
time and energy in recent months as the ACC’s expansion may open up an
opportunity for the Pirates to improve postseason access in football.
“Our objective when all of the dust settles here is for ECU
to be a part of an all-sports conference where we have the opportunity to
compete for national championships in every sport in which we participate,”
The lack of inclusion for Conference USA’s champion in the
bowl championship series is the point that has Muse monitoring a variety of
A team from C-USA doesn’t get in unless it finishes in the
top six in the formula that produces the BCS standings. That hasn’t
Tulane couldn’t even make the top 10 when it went unbeaten
in 1998, although the Green Wave had a relatively-weak non-conference
ECU may not have the likes of Shaun King at quarterback as
Tulane did during the Waves’ perfect season but the Pirates do have a
challenging schedule that includes a Sept. 13 trip to meet Miami in the
The Hurricanes have played for the last two national titles,
winning in 2001. They were denied last season in the championship game
against Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl by a controversial pass interference
The Pirates' schedule presents opportunities for regional
and national recognition.
With ECU attempting to regain its winning stature in
football after a 10-14 record over the last two seasons, an immediate
turnaround would have some value in terms of perceptions of the Pirates.
Muse knows that, but his expectations are realistic. With plans to build a
winner for the Pirates over the course of a 5-year contract, Thompson
acknowledges that improved postseason access would help in that process.
“Everybody in this program wants to get in a position to
play for it all,” he said. “That’s what we want. Whether that takes a couple
of years of winning and we’re able to get in the top six in the country or
our bowl alliance gets in the BCS or towards a playoff. Whatever.”
Inclusion in the BCS, which is currently contracted through
the 2005 season, is a point of demarcation in I-A football. The ACC and Big
East are among the six leagues whose champions are assured of a spot in the
BCS and reap the system’s ample financial rewards.
A program infused by Thompson’s enthusiasm has a schedule
that allows it to raise its stock. The chance that it could be cashed in
with a present BCS conference serves to increase the anticipation.
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