College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, May 12, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
Muse scrutinizing realignment
saga from 'crow's nest'
East Carolina chancellor William Muse anticipated the possible change in
landscape in college athletics that is currently generating the avalanche of
speculation about potential conference realignment. That was one reason why
he retained former NCAA president and ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan to
study the ECU athletics department last year.
One area Corrigan was asked to explore from the Pirates’ standpoint was
positioning for a move to what is currently a power conference in terms of
the football bowl championship series. That aspect of Corrigan’s study
didn’t receive much attention for the obvious reason that ECU didn’t want to
jeopardize its standing in Conference USA.
“It’s like looking for another wife while you’re married,” said one ECU
official about appearing too interested in joining another league while
committed to Conference USA.
But now athletics directors at other institutions in C-USA — Louisville
and Memphis — have made published responses about possible interest in the
Big East or a C-USA-Big East hybrid if an ACC raid on the Big East should
net Miami and possibly Boston College and Syracuse.
Interestingly, there have been reports that Virginia Tech might be an
influential factor in Virginia’s stance on expansion. According to some
accounts, a segment of the Virginia state legislature might fight an ACC
expansion endorsement from the Cavaliers if such a move would leave the
Hokies floating in a diluted Big East.
Getting seven members in favor of expansion from the nine ACC members may
be the real stumbling block as far as starting the domino process that could
Muse has said that the significance of college athletics in terms of
exposure and revenue can’t be ignored. Don’t forget that he came from Auburn
and the SEC, which maximizes that league’s accent on football with a
championship game between division winners that is said to generate $12
ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick has been following Corrigan’s
directives and emphasizing broad-based competitiveness as the key that could
unlock a step up in conference alignment.
C-USA athletics directors meet in Destin, Fla., this week while ACC
officials confer in Amelia Island, Fla. There will be more than casual
interest from the C-USA folks if their ACC brethren address the issue of
expansion with any degree of substance.
One course of action that makes a lot of sense is for the non-Division I
football schools in C-USA and the Big East to form a league. With programs
including Marquette, Georgetown, DePaul, Saint Louis, Providence, Villanova
and Charlotte, that could be an attractive grouping in basketball — one that
could market a hoops identity as opposed to a sort of second-class status in
leagues with D-I football.
If the ACC keeps the status quo, there is nothing preventing the Big East
from going to 12 football members. Louisville and Cincinnati make sense
geographically, competitively and in terms of their television markets.
ECU, too, fits geographically and competitively, but the relatively small
television market is supposedly a detriment.
Broad-based competitiveness isn’t really the issue for ECU. Football and
men’s basketball are the major revenue producers that drive consideration
from another conference. The ACC isn’t after Miami because the Hurricanes
play great baseball.
Consistency is really the issue for the Pirates in the money sports.
In football last season, ECU was the fall guy for Duke’s 23-game losing
streak but even in an off-year the Pirates were good enough to beat a
nationally-ranked Texas Christian team. It was a similar scenario in
basketball — good enough to beat a Final Four team (Marquette) at their
best, but the Pirates lost by 19 points at Coastal Carolina and missed out
on their first winning season in the Bill Herrion coaching era despite a 7-0
It seems to be a recurring theme for ECU. At selected times, the Pirates
can more than hold their own against the elite. How about that win over
Miami in football in 1999? Superb, for sure, but that was the same Pirates
team that couldn’t hold a lead later that season at UAB.
ECU needs to be able to handle its role as the hunted as well as it
occasionally handles the role of hunter against ranked opposition.
Still, the Pirates shouldn’t be ruled out of making a change in
conference affiliation regardless of what happens with the ACC.
If Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese wanted to look smart and
strengthen his league rather than fume about the ACC’s covert
aggressiveness, he should be looking at adding teams to conduct the Big
East’s own football championship game. ECU could be a player in that
scenario if the Big East chose to make a preemptive strike on ACC expansion
Such a plan might keep Miami, Syracuse and Boston College from straying
while increasing the Big East’s revenue and national position. It’s been
reported that it would cost those institutions $1 million each to leave the
Big East and $3 million each to join the ACC.
Much of the urgency of going to the Big East for ECU is based on
potential affiliation with a BCS conference. But such a move appears
unlikely to take effect before the 2005 football season and the current BCS
agreement is supposed to be reevaluated by 2006. If an inclusive playoff
system were to be established in football that would reduce the significance
of leaving C-USA for the Big East.
The generally-cautious economic climate may carry the day in the ACC. A
decision to expand would have to be made by university presidents who will
examine the revenue implications of further dividing a sweet pie that means
roughly $10 million annually per member.
Any move that might affect traditional scheduling in the ACC would have
to be backed by some pretty strong math on the financial side of expansion.
It’s a situation that anyone without a crystal ball is ill-equipped to
predict but there’s one thing you can count on. The man who resides at 605
East Fifth Street, the chancellor’s house in Greenville, is keeping an eye
on the developments like a lookout in the crow’s nest. Muse understands the
dynamics and he’ll be ready to take action in ECU’s best interests when and
if the opportunity develops.
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02/23/2007 12:41:08 AM