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College Sports in the Carolinas


View from the East
Monday, March 17, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

C-USA venue inequities akin to Reynolds' tourney days


There has been talk among East Carolina fans this season about whether Conference USA is competitively superior to the ACC. That’s a matter for debate.

Marquette, the C-USA regular season champion, beat Wake Forest, the ACC regular season champion, at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee by a score of 68-61 on Feb. 9.

The best regular season C-USA team, playing on its home floor, beat the best regular season ACC team. For the significance of the homecourt advantage, see East Carolina’s 0-16 road record in C-USA over two seasons.

The ACC got four teams in the NCAA Tournament, the same number as C-USA. Wake Forest, at No. 2 in the East, was the highest seed from either league.

One area where the ACC is clearly ahead is in the competitive equitability for the location of its league tournament although based on the last five years, it appears Duke would win regardless of where the event was held.

Still, the ACC prohibits teams from hosting the ACC Tournament on its home court. N.C. State did that at Reynolds Coliseum when the ACC Tournament started in 1954 until 1966, but since then the event has been held on neutral floors.

The Wolfpack was dominant on its home floor and other teams felt it was unfair for State to have such a built-in advantage. The NCAA men’s tournament doesn’t allow teams to play in their campus arenas. But here’s Louisville, which averaged over capacity of 18,865 at its home floor, Freedom Hall, during the 2002-03 season, playing the C-USA Tournament at ... Freedom Hall.

The Cardinals get to sleep in their own beds, play in their own arena and get substantial support from their fans. The reason, of course, is money. Given the choice of a more equitable site or a guaranteed source of revenue, C-USA has understandably chosen money.

“Louisville sold close to 13,000 all-tournament books of tickets,” said ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick. “When it comes to a neutral floor or fan support, I’m not sure you can have both in this league right now. Where else do you have it if you want to get good crowds and guaranteed revenue? When you play at Cincinnati and Louisville, you do that.

“The schools that have shown interest in bidding to host it are Cincinnati, Louisville and Memphis. It’s been in St. Louis and Birmingham but the crowds there weren’t as good.”

The home team has won three times in eight tries since the C-USA Tournament started in 1996. That’s much better than random odds for a league that now includes 14 teams.

Here are the trends as they unfolded:

  • Cincinnati edged Marquette 85-84 in overtime in the first C-USA Tournament championship game in 1996 at the Pyramid in Memphis. Marquette beat host Memphis 72-60 in the semifinals.

  • Fifth-seeded Marquette topped Charlotte 60-52 in the final in 1997 at the Kiel Center in St. Louis. Top-seeded Cincinnati ousted the host Billikens 71-43 in the quarterfinals.

  • Cincinnati won the tournament in 1998 at the Shoemaker Center on its own campus.

  • Charlotte ran the table at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center in Birmingham, Ala. in 1999.

  • Ninth-seeded Saint Louis was the winner in Memphis in 2000, the lowest seed to capture the league tournament.

  • Charlotte won at Louisville in 2001 and Cincinnati won at the Firstar Center in Cincinnati in 2002.

The C-USA Tournament will be played at the Firstar Center again next year.

“It’s better playing there in terms of a neutral site than playing at the Shoemaker Center on campus,” Hamrick said. “No question it’s tremendous advantage for Louisville and Cincinnati to be able to do that.

“The reason is that those are the two markets where they are going to draw fans. If you talk to the coaches, they’d love to take it to a neutral site but the question is whether you can make money and put people in the seats.

“Heaven forbid you have to play Louisville or Cincinnati in their arena. Obviously, that’s a disadvantage.”

The NCAA women’s tournament has been played at campus arenas of the higher seeded teams in past years but is switching to predetermined sites, which in some cases will be an advantage for a host team in the event.

NCAA officials recognize the desirability of neutral sites but women’s basketball isn’t to that point of forsaking revenue by abandoning teams playing in their home arenas.

It took the ACC 13 seasons at Reynolds Coliseum before the league tournament was moved to a neutral floor. C-USA has had eight league tournaments but hopefully it will grow faster than the ACC in moving to a neutral venue for the sake of fair competition.

The ability to generate revenue at a neutral site will be the key. It seems like the Charlotte Coliseum would be interested in putting in a bid now that the Hornets are no longer there. That would at least give ECU fans a reasonable drive to see the Pirates — provided they make the field.

Herrion recruiting

Pirates coach Bill Herrion is working hard to raise ECU’s competitive level but he must feel sort of like one of the greyhounds at the dog track chasing the mechanical rabbits. When he came to ECU, his job was to make the Pirates competitive in the Colonial Athletic Association. Shortly after that, plans to join C-USA were announced. Herrion had the same job but all of a sudden it became a lot tougher.

As he combs the nation for players to help the Pirates close the competitive gap, C-USA is improving at the same time, continually raising the bar.

“We understood that it’s a very good league,” Herrion said. “When we first got in there was so much excitement and newness and last year I don’t know if people took us seriously. We snuck up on some people and established a homecourt advantage.

“The second time through the league I think we all underestimated how monumental the challenge is. We didn’t sneak up on anybody this year and this league is only going to get better.

“(Rick) Pitino at Louisville is going to get players,” Herrion said. “(John) Calipari at Memphis is going to get players.

"I don’t think you can really evaluate accurately where we are in this league until they do away with the divisions next year. We’ve been in a monster division. You’ve got three teams (from ECU's American Division) in the NCAA — Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette — and probably DePaul and Saint Louis in the NIT. Our side is an absolute monster.”

Herrion said Winston-Salem Reynolds forward Keith Foster, ECU’s lone signee thus far, still has got a lot of work to do to be academically eligible next year. But the emphasis with the remaining scholarships will be on finding a point guard to replace Travis Holcomb-Faye and getting some scoring help from the perimeter.

“I think the reason our frontcourt struggled was because our perimeter struggled,” Herrion said. “We’ll look at the junior colleges and high schools and take the best available kids. We need another perimeter guy who can just score. N.C. State has Julius Hodge. Wake Forest has Josh Howard. In this league you’ve got Reece Gaines at Louisville and Dwyane Wade at Marquette. We don’t have that guy yet.”

Herrion got an early start on recruiting because ECU missed the C-USA Tournament.

“No question not getting in gave us some extra time to recruit but the No.1 factor is that I don’t think we deserved to go,” Herrion said. “It’s something you earn. It’s not handed to you. It allowed us to get on the road and as a head coach to go out and make a decision on some kids as to whether or not they can play for us.”

Herrion was in Salinas, Kan., for a junior college regional last week. He was in New York recruiting on Saturday and saw Pitt’s win over Connecticut in Madison Square Garden in the Big East Conference Tournament final.

He was on the New Jersey turnpike driving to Philadelphia when I talked to him on Sunday. He was scheduled to be at Allegany Community College in Maryland on Monday before heading to the national junior college tournament in Hutchinson, Kan..

“I’ll get back Thursday for a Pirate Club meeting,” Herrion said. “It’ll be a full week.”

Herrion's crystal ball

Herrion went to the NCAA Tournament three times as coach at Drexel. He’s just a fan this year and thinks the event is “wide open.”

“Obviously, you look at Kentucky,” he said. “They’re hot and they’ve got a big-time winning streak but I think you’re going to see a surprise winner this year.”

Herrion was impressed with what he saw from Pitt.

“They’ve got a shot,” he said. “They play great defense, they’re physical and they’re a great team in the halfcourt. They’ve got a shot. They’ve got senior leadership. They’re just tough as nails.”

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02/23/2007 12:40:56 AM

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