If East Carolina ever had a window of opportunity for
inclusion in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the clock started ticking on
Keep in mind that 11 teams was never the desired number for
ACC expansion. It was the result of Virginia holding the rest of the league
hostage because of in-state political pressure to look after Virginia Tech.
Eleven apparently became preferable to 13, which is why
Syracuse and Boston College didn’t make the cut after Tuesday night’s
lengthy conference call. Miami was the main objective all along. The
Hurricanes are a football power, even though they don’t draw particularly
The magic number is still 12. That would allow a football
championship game. So, who will be the addition that gets the ACC to its
intended membership quota if Miami decides to come aboard?
Speculation has it that the program ACC commissioner Johnny
Swofford wants is Notre Dame but the Fighting Irish aren’t likely to forfeit
their lucrative status as a national independent in football. So mark them
off the list.
South Carolina has been mentioned but there is still some
time-honored bitterness over South Carolina’s exit from the ACC in the
1970s. And, besides, the SEC is a good situation for the Gamecocks.
Start thinking about scenarios that could get the Pirates in
the same back door that the Hokies will apparently slip through. No one
could discount ECU based on television market or men’s basketball now that
Virginia Tech is apparently in the fold.
It wouldn’t take seven schools necessarily in favor of
getting the Pirates in. It just takes seven schools in favor of expansion
and one school willing to halt the process on behalf of the Pirates.
It would just take one. That’s all it took for Virginia
You have to assume that Duke and North Carolina would still
be against a multi-team expansion based on their stance thus far. One member
that threatens to join the Blue Devils and Tar Heels and gum up the works
gives Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Wake Forest and
Maryland considerable leverage if there was one program that any of those
schools wanted to advocate as the 12th member.
Virginia revealed that weakness in the system.
So who might go to bat for the Pirates? Although ECU would
bring more to the ACC table than much of the league even realizes,
friendships aren’t enough to make it happen. Florida State athletics
director Dave Hart isn’t in position to help his former employer.
ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick can’t ask a favor of
that magnitude from his buddy, Wake Forest athletics director Ron Wellman.
The fulcrum to leverage the process in ECU’s favor lies in
the political system. If Governor Mike Easley could be prevailed upon to
make a case for elevating the Pirates into a super conference within the
context of creating a better competitive situation for a state university,
that could possibly start the ball rolling.
If Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and Minges Coliseum's Williams
Arena suddenly became venues for standing-room-only ACC football and
basketball games, the positive effects would extend far beyond East Carolina
University. The substantial economic impact of such an eventuality would
filter throughout the economies of many counties in the region, and that's
the kind of results politicians achieve far too seldom.
N.C. State would be the school that would be most
susceptible to jawboning from Easley and state political leaders such as
Senate leader Marc Basnight, who is credited with helping get NCSU and UNC
to begin scheduling ECU again in football.
Admittedly, it’s a long shot — any scenario in which the
Pirates would depend on the Wolfpack to advance athletically is a long shot.
But it’s still probably ECU’s best shot at getting into the ACC, which would
be the best possible league affiliation for the Pirates from geographic,
economic and cultural standpoints.
ECU is still more like an SEC program in terms of its
football orientation and the nature of its fan base. The Big East might
possibly provide access to the BCS, but indications are that any expansion
by the Big East would be characterized by a higher level of planning,
thought and discretion than that which has been displayed by the ACC.
Conference USA is a good fit for the Pirates' current
competitive level but history has shown that East Carolina is a growing
athletic program, covering a lot of ground since its days as a small college
in the mid-1960s.
ECU and Virginia Tech were relative equals in their sports
endeavors as recently as 10 years ago. Look at what membership in the Big
East did to propel the Hokies program to lofty heights during the 'nineties.
The ACC would provide a ladder for the Pirates to continue
their athletic ascension. All ECU would need is a helping hand from an
in-state sister institution.
Is it unlikely? Very. But just think what some proactive
political advocacy has done for Virginia Tech over the last several weeks.