College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, May 19, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
East Carolina well-situated
for league upheavals
East Carolina’s geography, its status as an all-sports member in
Conference USA and its record as a program which has achieved notable
progress with integrity have given the Pirates credibility in terms of
candidacy for a potential spot in a reconfigured Big East.
In recent days, the possibilities have been on the minds of a lot of
people with a stake in the matter.
East Carolina athletics director Mike Hamrick returned from the C-USA meetings in Destin, Fla., this week. He has served as chairman for the
league’s athletics directors this year.
The atmosphere at the C-USA meetings was certainly influenced to a degree by the
expansion issue ACC leaders were dealing with in Amelia Island, Fla. If
Miami, Syracuse and Boston College leave the Big East for the ACC, it could
set off a domino effect in college athletics impacting C-USA and the
With his league possibly facing a major shuffle, C-USA commissioner
Britton Banowsky spun the situation with a big scoop of vanilla.
“I was pleased by the discussion of our membership in light of recent
speculation related to Division I conference alignment,” Banowsky said. “We
are committed to ensuring that this area is managed with the highest degree
of integrity and thoughtful analysis.”
ECU’s inclusion in C-USA has given the Pirates credibility in terms of
possible candidacy for a spot in a reconfigured Big East — much more so than
if ECU was still an independent in football or a member of the Colonial
Athletic Association in other sports.
“We’ve been very pleased to be in Conference USA,” Hamrick said. “Our
conference has really moved forward. Our basketball tournaments have been
outstanding the last two years. We have a multi-year television agreement
with ESPN. We’ve had a lot of really positive things come out of Conference
USA, but to be real honest there’s a lot of anxiety among our conference
members and among other conference members all across the country — just
kind of sitting back waiting to see what happens with the potential
expansion of the ACC.
“The way these things happen, once one school goes or two schools go to
one conference or another, it has a domino effect and we’re just trying to
figure where we stand in all of this.”
Football power Miami is in great bargaining position at the Big East
meetings in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., which convened on Saturday. The
Hurricanes could get a restructured revenue sharing plan in the Big East —
read that as big bucks — and be content with their present league alignment.
It’s difficult to find a program from the mid-major level up in the
eastern half of the United States that might not be affected by a shift by
“I don’t think there’s any question that everything hinges on the
decision that Miami makes,” Hamrick said. “If Miami makes a decision to go
to the ACC, that would leave the Big East with only five football-playing
schools. What they would do — I don’t think anybody knows.
“Again, we’re committed to Conference USA; however, we’ve got to really
keep abreast of what’s going on on the national scene and try to do
everything possible to position East Carolina University athletics in the
best possible position in case something happens that could affect us either
positively or negatively.”
In the event that pursuing a vacancy in the Big East becomes the best
course for the Pirate ship, selling ECU’s positives, enhancing existing
relationships with Virginia Tech and West Virginia, and leveraging their
influence with television interests will be among the tasks for ECU
representatives such as Chancellor William Muse, Hamrick and associate
athletics director Nick Floyd.
A lot would depend on how many teams the Big East might add. Its
non-Division I-A football members such as St. John’s, Georgetown, Providence
and Seton Hall could form a separate alliance with institutions in C-USA
with similar interests and limitations such as Marquette, Saint Louis,
DePaul and Charlotte.
If the Big East loses three schools to the ACC, it might decide that nine
is a good number for football. Nine allows four home games and four road
games in a round-robin format in league football scheduling. Five C-USA
schools might be considered for four spots, including ECU, Louisville,
Cincinnati, Memphis and South Florida.
ECU’s consideration for the Big East would be enhanced if the league went
to 12 teams in order to have a championship football game.
Hamrick helped ECU put its best foot forward when football membership was
initially the issue in C-USA and later when the Pirates pushed for
all-sports inclusion. He knows the factors that are evaluated in the process
and knows how to present the Pirates in the best possible light.
“First of all we have a quality athletic program,” Hamrick said. “Our
graduation rates — of all the Division I football schools in the North
Carolina system, we’re at the top for football. Our student-athlete
graduation rates are very high, well above the entire student body. It’s a
growing university. We’ve got great fan support. Fans travel to away games.
We’re known for that. They travel to bowl games. We’re known for that.
“We’ve really tried to build the infrastructure of this program to make
us attractive to whomever. With the addition of a $7.5 million baseball
stadium that will be ready for play in the spring of 2005, we will have put
over $46 million over the last six years into our athletics facilities. What
that shows a potential conference is commitment to your program, that you
want to be successful, that you do things right, and we’re trying to do
“Also I think we have a lot of credibility because we’re in a great
conference already, Conference USA. There were reasons why we got into
Conference USA in all sports two years ago. I think those same reasons could
be beneficial down the road whenever there’s the potential for another
“Again, we’re committed to Conference USA and hope it stays together.
It’s been good for us and we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
The Pirates’ annual athletics budget of $15.7 million is middle of the
pack in C-USA but it’s significant that the ECU budget has practically
doubled in the last seven years. The Pirates have done an incredible amount
of work on facilities.
ECU also has a national television identity from a previous contract with
ESPN. Television’s role in the potential reshuffling process shouldn’t be
underestimated, nor should the fact that the Pirates have been an
accommodating television partner. The anticipation of increased television
contracts is the basis for the ACC’s interest in three Big East teams.
ECU is obviously an upwardly-mobile athletics program. Three decades ago,
the Pirates were happy to be in the Southern Conference. The program's
growth from that point is remarkable. Geography is a factor that could also
help ECU in any consideration from the Big East — especially when presidents
factor in the cost of travel for non-revenue sports compared to trips with
Memphis and South Florida.
Baseball might suffer in terms of the competitive level of the Big East
compared to C-USA but ECU’s climate compared to other programs would be an
There are uncertainties about C-USA. Tulane’s football future is very
cloudy. UAB and Houston have concerns about resources. The Western Athletic
Conference could be interested in Texas Christian and Southern Miss.
C-USA has been good for ECU but there is a wide range of viability within
the league among its current members. In many respects, ECU is one of
C-USA’s “haves” as opposed to the “have nots.” The Pirates may be poised on
a great opportunity if a slot in the Big East opens up.
There’s still a question about the future of the bowl championship
series, which is due for restructuring in 2006. If the BCS continues and
still includes a spot for the Big East champion, then moving to the Big East
would be a big step for ECU.
Until that issue is resolved, the situation’s potential amounts to a
castle in the air. Its progress to reality appears to start with Miami
moving into the ACC. Whether that move takes place may not be determined in
the near future, but such a move by the Hurricanes could definitely give a
big push to ECU's continued upward mobility.
East Carolina would appear to be a good fit for the Big East — right down
to the geography of its name.
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02/23/2007 12:41:09 AM