College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Friday, November 14, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
Stepping into new world order
Where are we now that the tremors have, at least temporarily, subsided?
As promised, the landscape of conference affiliation has changed and the
dominos have fallen. The membership of Conference USA will be altered,
impacting East Carolina.
C-USA will lose its identity as a basketball power but no longer suffers
from a split personality with a mixture of football and non-football
members. Its non-football schools will bolt and in their place are the
makings for geographically-defined divisions that should reduce travel,
enhance some potential rivalries and enable a championship football game.
For the traditionally-football-minded Pirates, thatís a plus, even if
aspirations to a Bowl Championship Series conference were not realized. ECU
coach John Thompson sees a championship game as a selling point to recruits.
There are already provisions in C-USAís television contract with ABC/ESPN
for showing a league title game, although that pact may be restructured for
more emphasis on football to compensate for the loss of its strongest
Although Texas Christian is still mulling a move to the Mountain West, even
as the Horned Frogs bid to crash the BCS party, the restructuring of the
ACC, Big East and C-USA appears settled for the most part. So what have we
gained and what have we lost in the reshuffling?
Letís start with the ACC, whose aggressive pursuit of Miami, Boston College
and Syracuse began the whole process. The ACCís expansion went off like a
poorly-planned invasion. Duke and North Carolina had reservations, which
allowed Virginia to hamstring the process and insist on Virginia Tech
because of political pressure within the Commonwealth.
There was the notion that the ACC might land Notre Dame, so a space was
reserved while Miami and compromise candidate Virginia Tech accepted
invitations. Former ECU chancellor Bill Muse sought to be proactive on
behalf of the Pirates for consideration as the ACCís 12th program, but the
ACC indicated it was content with 11.... and so it was ó for a few weeks.
At the time, the Fighting Irish didnít nibble on the ACCís bait and there
were indications that the NCAA might not waive its 12-team limit for a
football title game. The ACC got interested in adding a 12th team real fast.
Boston College, completely devoid of any natural rivals in the ACC but
positioned in a significant television market, got the call.
The admission of Miami and Virginia Tech is designed to strengthen the ACC
in football, although both have two recent losses which have knocked them
out of this yearís national championship picture. Neither will immediately
enhance the ACCís traditional basketball identity. The Hurricanes also have
a nationally-prominent baseball program. Boston College has a solid academic
reputation and ... that TV market.
The ACC no longer will play a round-robin schedule in the major sports but
will renegotiate its $25 million annual television package in football in
the next few weeks. From that standpoint, the ACCís expansion was a success
and ó unless weíre kidding ourselves ó television money was the overriding
objective from the outset.
ACC basketball tournament tickets will become more scarce and so it appears
will be the chances of a league football championship for anyone other than
Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State for the foreseeable future. At least
the Seminoles have some challengers now.
College sports is big business and the ACC has positioned itself for even
greater financial success.
Miami and Virginia Tech avoid prolonged lameduck status by coming to the ACC
next school year. Boston College may wait unless issues surrounding its exit
fee from the Big East can be resolved.
The Big East managed to avoid the public display of uncertainty that
characterized the ACCís expansion saga and deserves style points in that
regard for working in concert with Conference USA. Their efforts meant that
although C-USA lost five vital members to the Big East, C-USA had
replacements lined up when the official announcements were made last week.
C-USA didnít have the same violated appearance that the Big East endured
after the ACC expanded.
The Big East will add Cincinnati, DePaul, South Florida, Louisville and
Marquette from C-USA. Those schools represent five NCAA titles in menís
basketball and will only strengthen the basketball-rich Big East, which
includes 2003 champion Syracuse.
In their place, C-USA will add Central Florida, Marshall, Rice, Southern
Methodist and Tulsa ó all of which, unlike DePaul and Marquette, play
In another league switch, non-football C-USA members Charlotte and Saint
Louis will migrate to the Atlantic 10. So C-USAís perception as a basketball
power is vanquished. That is a mixed blessing for ECU. The Pirates will be
more competitive in the new alignment but recruiting may become more
difficult without the attraction of match-ups with big-name programs. ECUís
home attendance also may be affected because the opposition may not be as
appealing to fans.
Rice is a national power in baseball, a nice perk for C-USA.
The exits from C-USA wonít take place until 2005-06, which means a
substantial portion of the league will quack through the 2004-05 school year
as lame ducks.
If TCU stays in C-USA, it has the prospect of a relatively-compact
geographic division. The probable western alignment would include the Frogs,
Houston, Rice and SMU from the Lone Star state, along with Tulane and Tulsa
in bordering states.
If TCU opts for the Mountain West, Louisiana Tech might fit into C-USAís
model for the future.
An eastern division would include ECU, Central Florida, Marshall, Memphis,
Southern Miss and UAB. Thatís plenty of football competition for the
Pirates. Marshall was humbled on national television this week by Miami of
Ohio but the Thundering Herd has five straight bowl wins, which is the most
of any program in Division I-A.
Central Florida has some baggage with its current flock of personnel
problems and the Knights have jettisoned Coach Mike Kruczek as a result.
Expansion is about institutions and not personalities or immediate
performance, according to ECU advocate Roy Kramer, and had the Big East
placed more emphasis on factors other than geography then it might not have
bypassed ECU in favor of South Florida.
Based on South Floridaís fan support last Saturday, the Bulls arenít viewed
as a future asset which will help fill football stadiums. The Bulls are in
Florida, period. They lag behind the Pirates in budget, attendance,
tradition and travel distance in regard to the Big East. But thereís no
disputing that they are in Florida, west central Florida to be exact.
ECUís goal was membership in a BCS conference and that hasnít happened for
There are rumors that Vanderbiltís athletics reorganization might result in
the Commodores leaving the SEC. This has been little more than radio talk
show fodder but the speculation about a vacancy in the SEC has included
ECUís mention as a possible replacement.
The more likely scenario for this unsubstantiated possibility is that the
SEC would take West Virginia and open up another spot in the Big East.
One key as to how well ECU is positioned for the future is what happens to
the BCS after its present contractual limits expire after the 2005 season.
If the postseason structure of college football becomes more inclusive, then
C-USA and the Pirates should benefit.
Ironically, if the status of the Big East is
diminished because of the loss of its football powers, then the object of
ECUís interest in the Big East would be negated.
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02/23/2007 12:41:20 AM