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Don't miss Al Myatt's profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004 Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Friday, September 17, 2004

By Al Myatt

Scheduling strategies deal cruel fates

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Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• STEVE BALLARD: New Leader Takes Charge

• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door

• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate


One problem with non-conference football games is that they are often scheduled so far in advance that the strengths of the programs involved can change significantly by the time the teams actually meet.

For example, East Carolina has games contracted with North Carolina which will be decided by players currently in middle school. The Pirates' contract with N.C. State includes a game in 2016. Some of the kids who will line up in that one still have their baby teeth.

You know what happens to the best laid plans. They often go awry.

It seems fairly safe to say that ECU's current slump — losses in 15 of its last 16 games — was not envisioned when former athletics director Mike Hamrick signed off on the 2004 schedule.

But while North Carolina was opening its season at home against Division I-AA William & Mary and N.C. State was dismantling an overmatched I-AA foe, the Pirates were preparing to open the season at Top 10 power West Virginia.

"The schedule is what it is," said ECU coach John Thompson, refusing to blame the futuristic roll of the dice that determines non-conference matchups.

What the schedule is, however, is unfortunately not what the ECU program needs at this point. If ever there was a time the Pirates needed a beatable I-AA foe at home to acclimate personnel, evaluate systems and gain confidence — like their in-state neighbors — it was this season.

A game with with say, a James Madison or a Furman, could have gotten ECU off on the right foot but instead the Pirates were immersed in a cauldron of national championship aspirations in Morgantown, West Virginia, home to one of the most physical football teams this side of the NFL.

It's not likely that Thompson mailed any thank you notes to Hamrick out at Nevada-Las Vegas for that assignment. Not that Hamrick deserves any blame. When the contracts were made, ECU was probably more capable of competing with the Mountaineers on their home field.

Wake Forest seems to have come up a winner in its recent scheduling with the Pirates. The Demon Deacons got consecutive home games with ECU in 2002 and 2003. This season Wake came to Greenville but they caught the Pirates after a thorough tenderizing.

Jenny Craig would approve ECU's current non-conference schedule. There's nothing fattening in the way of a creampuff. N.C. State has revitalized since Chuck Amato arrived following a 23-6 loss to the Pirates in Greenville in 1999. Meanwhile, East Carolina has made a u-turn in the other direction. The Wolfpack looms at the end of the tunnel this year — Nov. 27 in Charlotte.

At the moment that's not a pleasant thought for ECU faithful in terms of in-state bragging rights.

The Pirates have traditionally scheduled "up" quite a bit. As an independent between 1977 and 1996, the Pirates were booked at locales such as Miami, Florida State, Auburn, Washington and Tennessee.

A number of East Carolina teams have been capable of stunning the big boys — Missouri in 1983, Miami in 1996 and the Hurricanes again in 1999.

Playing the powers, usually on the road, means a nice paycheck and it's an opportunity for recognition. It's where ECU has lived for much of its football development.

But an awareness of ECU's growing pains at the moment tempers any excitement personally about next year's trip to Morgantown. Thompson said the Pirates also will travel to Wake in 2005. Duke will be on the schedule with the Blue Devils making their second trip to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Thompson and Duke coach Ted Roof, incidentally, are good friends.

You have to credit Thompson's former program, Southern Miss, for its road win at Nebraska last Saturday. That made Thompson's preseason Conference USA pick — Jeff Bower's program — look a little stronger. The Golden Eagles' slogan is "anytime, anywhere" in regard to scheduling. ECU has operated under a similar philosophy over the years.

But the Pirates could use a break in their non-conference scheduling until JT and his program are a little farther along in the rebuilding process.

In the NFL, the teams with the poorest records have the softest schedules the following year. Too bad it doesn't work that way in college. ECU might be matching up with Alcorn State, Prairie View and Beaver Cleaver's neighborhood team after that 1-11 struggle in 2003.

But there is hope. Future college schedules aren't set in stone, particularly when television interests are involved. Virginia Tech moved a game set for this season at LSU to 2007. The game Duke will play in Greenville next year also was postponed from an earlier date. Kentucky wrote a buyout check rather than playing at ECU in 1998.

So maybe there's a chance that the Pirates won't be so schedule-challenged in 2005. With Terry Holland using his influence as the new Pirates AD, perhaps ECU could take a raincheck on next year's trip to West Virginia.


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02/23/2007 12:46:30 AM

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