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College Sports in the Carolinas


View from the East
Friday, November 14, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

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 basketball programs.

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 football.

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 the moment.

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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Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:41:20 AM

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