College Sports in the Carolinas
Don't miss Al Myatt's
profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004
from the East
Monday, November 8, 2004
By Al Myatt
Cougars' lot in life offers
WHERE TO BUY...
PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact
INSIDE PIRATE FOOTBALL
Tracking the Classes
NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again
HIGH HOPES FOR HOOPS
New Leader Takes Charge
SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door
KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams
BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate
Houston had a home football game on Saturday Homecoming no less and
topped East Carolina 34-24 at John O'Quinn Field at Robertson Stadium.
There were coupons available for admission at $5 each and the Cougars drew a
small but enthusiastic crowd of 13,069.
It was a postcard day near NASA command with sunny skies and a kickoff
temperature of 75 degrees, but at least four million people in the nation's
fourth largest city found something else to do.
ECU athletic director Terry Holland came to the Pirate sideline with about
eight minutes left in the Conference USA contest and Houston leading 34-17.
Holland had no doubt taken note of his surroundings rows upon rows of
empty seats. It was a setting the likes of which ECU must avoid during his
Houston used to play its home games at an engineering marvel called the
Astrodome. And program support wasn't always as it is now. As far back as
1966, the Cougars averaged 41,075 in home game attendance.
Houston's struggles at the gate and the general demise of the program that
produced a Heisman Trophy winner (quarterback Andre Ware) as recently as
1989 are testimony to what can happen when the boat is missed in terms of
the most desirable conference affiliation.
It's a situation that has affected the Cougars across the board. In 1983,
the basketball team featuring Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon was known as
Phi Slamma Jamma and was very much among the national elite.
Now Houston has announced it has downsized seating in its home hoops arena,
Hofheinz Pavillion. The reason, however spun by the Cougars, is a struggling
program and less demand for tickets.
When they talk about the good old days at Houston, they have plenty to talk
Houston was a member of a vital league configuration from 1976 to 1995 known
as the Southwest Conference. The Cougars won four football championships in
the now-defunct league.
But when the cream of the old Southwest merged into what is now the Big 12,
the Cougars were left out. Conference USA came calling and Houston signed
up. But for fans of football in the Lone Star state, matching up with Tulane
or Tulsa doesn't have the same sort of attraction as going head to head with
Recruits, as former ECU coach Steve Logan used to say, also have learned the
difference between conferences such as the Big 12 with its assured Bowl
Championship Series berth and "non-BCS" leagues such as C-USA.
Media attention also has also taken a backwards step. The Houston Chronicle
ran its account of the hometown program's Saturday win on page six of the
Sunday paper inside the back fold of its second section, which is devoted
to college football.
As recently as 1999, when ECU played in the inaugural Mobile Bowl, papers
from Charlotte, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Norfolk, Raleigh and Winston-Salem
regularly staffed Pirate games.
ECU's loss on Saturday ensured that the Pirates will not be bowl eligible
for the third straight year.
On Saturday, there were two media outlets on hand to cover ECU
Bonesville.net and the hometown Greenville Reflector. There was plenty of
elbow room in the ECU section of the Robertson Stadium press box.
Even The Pirate Chest, the publication devoted to ECU athletics and
circulated among Pirate Club members, has stopped staffing ECU road games.
If you need a road map to see the parallel universe that ECU is living in,
it's time to stop focusing on Luke Fisher dive through the tackle of N.C.
State's Sebastian Savage at the Peach Bowl to finish an 11-1 season in 1991
or another miraculous Pirate comeback to beat Miami in 1999.
Those days are gone, like Houston's membership in the Southwest Conference.
Not long ago, the Big East took a look at a reeling Pirate program and said,
Holland knows the Big East may look again at the athletic program of which
he has taken charge. He also knows the Pirates have just three gridiron wins
in their last 22 games.
Re-establishing football success will enhance ECU's chances for a more
desirable conference affiliation. Holland is no doubt evaluating the
situation in terms of who the best coach would be to accomplish that
There already has been significant slippage in the ECU program. Holland and
new ECU chancellor Steve Ballard simply can't afford to make a mistake. The
Pirates certainly can't afford a Homecoming down the road with 13,069 fans.
Houston is proof of what can happen.
Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.
Click here to dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville
02/23/2007 12:46:49 AM