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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Friday, April 30, 2004

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

League's new flavor produces dilemma for palate


Conference USA should fill out its dance card for 2005-06 and beyond if the CEOs of its future membership follow the evaluations of its athletics directors and put the rubber stamp of approval on Texas-El Paso in a conference call today.

The short list being considered for an invitation as the league’s 12th member apparently included Louisiana Tech and North Texas but the Miners looked to be the best choice based on their athletics budget and facilities.

Temple would have been a good fit for ECU geographically and is located in the Philadelphia market. But that star above the C-USA logo apparently stands for the Lone Star state.

Several prospective programs from the MAC must have said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Commissioner Britton Banowsky never moved from Dallas to the league office in Chicago and now that the league’s footprint no longer includes the Windy City, with DePaul ticketed to the Big East, C-USA will make its future home office in Big D.

No league has been affected to a greater extent by the procession of dominoes emanating from the ACC’s grab of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College than C-USA.

With Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida, Marquette and DePaul migrating to the Big East, plus Charlotte and Saint Louis leaving for the Atlantic 10, and TCU deciding that the grass is greener in the Mountain West, the league will soon look like it has undergone plastic surgery. Football only member Army, of course, started the ball rolling by announcing it was returning to independent status.

There are nine programs leaving, which is 60 percent of the current membership. The Big East shrieked and filed lawsuits when it lost just three of its members to the ACC’s raid then proceeded to beckon five from C-USA.

So what’s emerging is an Eastern and Western Division with six teams each that will allow C-USA to stage a football championship game. The Western Division bears a resemblance to a poor man’s version of the old Southwestern Conference with Rice, Houston, SMU, UTEP, Tulsa and Tulane.

The East would likely include ECU, Southern Miss, Memphis and UAB from C-USA’s current membership plus new additions Marshall and Central Florida, which came aboard from the MAC with C-USA’s initial replenishment. There appear to be no football Saturdays off for the Pirates in that potential division.

Despite its dramatic shift in membership, C-USA will still remain severely challenged in terms of understanding real barbecue, an issue ECU fans can sink their teeth into.

Basketball-wise, the Pirates should be more competitive in the new C-USA with virtually all of the national powers on their way out. Baseball may get tougher with Rice, the 2003 NCAA champion, entering the picture. Outdoor sports in general should get a boost of sorts with more warm
weather as the league’s epicenter moves to the southwest.

Revenue streams will certainly be challenged. NCAA men’s basketball tournament shares are likely to take a hit. It’s hard to be optimistic about television demand for the new league in football or basketball. There are still no practical bus rides in the league for the Pirates and that means significant travel costs continue.

It may be easy for the ECU community to be myopic with a football program still feeling fallout from a coaching transition, changes across the board in the university’s academic and athletic administration, and a baseball team that looks capable of realizing a longtime goal of getting to Omaha.

But C-USA is changing dramatically. It is what it is and it’s ECU’s home for the foreseeable future. It’s imperative that the Pirates and the league adapt as well as possible and move forward.

Maybe those Texas folks will even learn something about real barbecue.

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02/23/2007 12:45:31 AM

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