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CHRONICLING ECU & C-USA SPORTS
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View from the 'ville
Thursday, December 13, 2007

By Al Myatt

Holland's hands full during the holidays

By Al Myatt
©2007 Bonesville.net
All rights reserved.

Terry Holland may be home for Christmas — but just barely. The East Carolina athletic director will have little time to kick back and enjoy egg nog beside the fireplace this holiday season.

Holland has an extended plane trip in his future as he contemplates the direction of the basketball program and the possibility of a new FM on the Pirates radio network as ECU tries to win its first bowl game since 2000 in Hawaii.

Fans matter

A 75-69 hoops win over N.C. State last Saturday night has Pirate athletics on a December roll comparable to the massive wave on the opening of the old Hawaii Five-O television show. Holland sees some valuable momentum welling up in the basketball program.

"The game atmosphere for N.C. State coupled with the win are the kinds of things that will enable us to move our basketball program in the right direction and have a huge impact on recruiting," Holland said.

The former Virginia basketball coach also likes the job that Mack McCarthy is doing as he directs the ECU cage program this season on an interim basis.

"Coach Mack is obviously a highly-talented and proven coach and he has put together an absolutely incredible staff," Holland said. "Coach Mack is showing our fan base exactly what the future of our program can be but we have to be able to follow his lead to make it happen."

The fan support that helped produce the win over the Wolfpack needs to happen on a more regular basis, according to the ECU AD. McCarthy himself said the Clemson game helped prepare his team for N.C. State in terms of getting used to that degree of noise and crowd support.

"Simply put, we can have that same game atmosphere for every game," Holland said. "We don't have to wait for N.C. State or anyone else to come to town. If we are only going to support our team in that manner when we perceive it to be a big game, then we will be allowing our opponents to control our potential in basketball."

The next home game against another regional rival, UNC Wilmington, needs to attract fans to a similar degree that the State game did in order for the hoops program to take another step forward.

"Can we and will we give this team and coaches the support they have earned from us on December 22 against UNC Wilmington?" Holland asked. "What group of Pirates can step forward to take the place of our missing students and those people who will be in Hawaii?"

Holland said change in the historically-challenged cage program depends in large part on a commitment from the fan base.

"ECU has hired talented coaches, AD's and marketing gurus over the years with only minimal success," Holland said. "The only thing that has the power to truly change, once and for all, the negative momentum of our basketball program is our Pirate Nation."

Holland challenged ECU fans directly to have a positive effect on Pirate basketball.

"You (the Pirate Nation) have shown the impact you can have on our football program and against N.C. State you got a taste of what you can do in basketball as partners with this coaching staff."

The Pirates, currently 4-5, haven't had a winning season on the hardwood since the 1996-97 team went 17-10 under Joe Dooley. That was three coaches ago when ECU was playing in the Colonial Athletic Association.

"There will be a lot of ups and downs during the season but this team and staff have proved that there is light at the end of the tunnel," Holland said. "The N.C. State win brings us to the old 'Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?' conundrum. There is no easy answer but the truth is that no coach nor any length of coach's contract will overcome the game atmosphere at our Winthrop game."

The Pirates had just over half as many fans (4,028) on hand for a 72-57 home loss to Winthrop on Nov. 28 as were present for ECU's first ever triumph over an ACC program.

"The game atmosphere and the performance on the court (against Winthrop) could easily have been the death knell for our program if the team had not found a way to win on the road against a strong George Mason team and if we had not been fortunate enough to have two ACC teams at home for the first time ever," Holland said.

Incidentally, the ECU AD gives McCarthy credit for scheduling Clemson and State in Greenville.

"Coach Mack and the players have helped us get back to a point where we have hope again," Holland said. "But without an exceptional show of force by the Pirate Nation, the coaches' and players' efforts alone will not be able to move us forward. Together we can do it — but neither the Pirate Nation nor a coaching staff of any sort can do it alone. We have proven that over and over."

New player: 94.3 FM

In regards to the involvement of the Pirate Nation, a decision must be made by ECU and its radio broadcasting entity, ISP Sports, concerning an offer from Henry Hinton to carry Pirate basketball and baseball games on 94.3 FM, a 6,000-watt station in Greenville, whose signal reaches Rocky Mount, Wilson, Kinston, Washington and Williamston within its approximate 30-mile radius.

Hinton has purchased 94.3 and will be moving much of the programming from WNCT-AM Talk 1070 to his new station in January. Hinton decided earlier this fall that despite a power increase at 1070, the AM station's signal simply wasn't strong enough to be heard to any acceptable extent beyond the city limits of Greenville. Consequently, he did not renew his annual option to continue at 1070.

Listeners couldn't access Hinton's popular and informative Talk of the Town program to an acceptable extent outside of Greenville on the radio. That will change with the imminent shift to 94.3, particularly in terms of night-time range. If Hinton's new station is allowed to carry basketball and baseball, that will give ECU athletics a significantly-expanded presence over the airwaves in the region in the football offseason.

The decision makers at ECU and ISP apparently have to determine if putting games on 94.3 will be a violation of the Pirate network's contractual agreements with Beasley Broadcasting, which owns 1070-AM and powerful 106.5-FM, which has carried ECU football. It appears that basketball and baseball will continue on 1070-AM as the station transitions to a contemporary Christian format.

"There is no doubt that we would like to have an FM station carrying our basketball and baseball games," Holland said. "Many members of the Pirate Nation would benefit from such an arrangement. Last season was our first on the 100,000-watt FM for football.

"Many Pirate fans were unhappy with the coverage for basketball and baseball last season and wanted to have other stations in the area carry the broadcasts. But our radio partners, for business reasons, were not willing to allow those other stations to carry the games even though those stations had been carrying the broadcasts in previous years.

"I do not know what will happen this year since it is an FM station and not an AM station(s), but our radio partners have shown themselves to be willing to assume an unusual amount of risk to become our flagship partner and they have done so mainly to help ECU, not to make money.

"We believe that we have been able to provide programming that made the risk worth taking but only time will tell if adding a 'local' FM fits into what is best for all concerned at this particular time."

Destination Hawaii

Speaking of money, Holland noted that ticket sales for the Hawaii Bowl, in which the Pirates will play Boise State on Dec. 23, have exceeded $100,000. That includes tickets which have been purchased for troops by those who may not be able to afford to support the Pirates in person in the postseason.

"We have sold tickets for the troops to people all over the country in addition to members of the Pirate Nation," Holland said.

Details on the Tickets for Troops promotion can be accessed at www.ecupirates.com.

The timing of the bowl is such that the ECU AD won't be on hand to see if his hopes for continued support of the hoops program become a reality when UNCW comes to town.

"I will go with the football team to Hawaii," Holland said. "Postseason play usually requires the AD's presence even if most of my duties are symbolic and simply show we take the invitation seriously."

Going to Hawaii might seem like a vacation in paradise to some but the trip has its drawbacks for a person of the 6-foot-8 Holland's stature.

"While I am excited about the game, I would do almost anything to avoid that plane trip since I don't fit anywhere on airplanes and they won't let me stand up for the whole flight as I do most places," he said.

While visions of sugar plums dance in some heads this time of year, Holland is occupied with sustaining momentum in basketball, trying to expand the range of upcoming broadcasts and finding a degree of comfort en route to the 50th state.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

01/05/2008 03:23:25 PM
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