Insights and Observations
Monday, June 27, 2005
By Henry Hinton
Holland assembles a league
of his own
archives of last week's Talk of the Town with
Hinton, including the June 22 show in which
Hinton broke the news of ECU's forthcoming
football scheduling deals:
Select audio clip
When the media was
informed East Carolina would make an announcement of unprecedented
proportions this past Thursday, there was speculation that
Terry Holland may have cut a deal with a new conference. In many ways
the actual announcement was better.
There they were. Helmets
of upcoming opponents on placards lined up behind the podium and microphone
where Holland addressed the media. It was almost as if Holland was, indeed,
announcing a new league. No, it is not actually a real conference but for
ECU fans, playing North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West
Virginia and Navy on a home and home basis offers everything the Pirates'
current league affiliation cannot.
Holland’s first East
Carolina football experience came a few days after he was announced as the
new Director of Athletics in Greenville. He stayed over for the weekend
because the Pirates were hosting Wake Forest in the home opener. While the
outcome of the game was disappointing, what Holland saw was a motivated fan
base that nearly filled Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
In the ensuing weeks that
atmosphere would not be re-created. Cincinnati, Tulane, Army and Memphis
were the opponents and Pirate fans stayed away in droves. Sure, it was hard
to get excited about a team that had gone 1-11 the previous year and
continued to struggle, but it became painfully clear to Holland that Pirate
fans are more excited to play in-state and regional teams than league foes
from far away places.
It was then and there
that the new AD formed his opinion and set about his strategy of convincing
the Tar Heels, Wolfpack, Hokies, Cavaliers, Mountaineers and Midshipmen to
play ECU. Maybe we should call it the “Holland Conference.”
Most who closely follow
college athletics in this area are amazed not only that Holland accomplished
getting home and home games with all of the above but also that he got it
done so swiftly.
Getting North Carolina
and N.C. State to Greenville the first time took years of political
wrangling. It is true that Holland already had established positive
relationships with those schools prior to becoming a Greenville resident,
but you can be sure that there are those inside the General Assembly who
understand the economic benefit of having 50,000 fans attend a game east of
In a Talk 1070 interview
recently, Holland explained it like this: “We understand that all of those
institutions have their own financial and competitive goals that sometimes
conflict with what may be best for eastern North Carolina, but there should
still be at some stage a recognition of how important this area is. It
doesn’t have to be did you play here every year or every other year even,
but there has to be some recognition.”
In forming his strategy
for re-energizing the ECU program Holland seems to be placing great
significance on past history. In fact, in that same June 10 interview he
even mentioned the largest moment in Pirate football history when talking
about which teams the Pirates should be playing on a regular basis.
“Who did we play in the
Peach bowl?" Holland asked rhetorically, then answered his own question.
"Then there is North
Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia," he added. "In other
words, who are the people that have been playing in the Gator Bowl, and who
are the people that have been playing in the Peach Bowl. Well by golly,
let’s play those people but hey, it’s even better if we play them at home
half the time, isn’t it?” Holland said on June 10."
So, now we have the
Holland Conference — a grouping of teams that have the potential to reignite
the passion for Pirate football. It is interesting that Wake Forest and Duke
did not get invited to join the new imaginary league.
In fact, at Thursday’s
media briefing, Holland’s response to a question we posed about future games
with the Deacons and Devils was remarkable in the insight it gave into how
he views the bigger picture. Holland actually said ECU had to “pick and
choose” the teams most important in what it is trying to do.
That is proof positive of
the magnitude of Holland’s accomplishment. Let me get this straight. WE had
to pick and choose and Wake and Duke didn’t make it? How far has this thing
come in one short year?
Terry Holland for
Of course there is one
potential problem with all of this good news. Can Skip Holtz get the program
competitive in time to play these games? Will the Pirates be ready to take
on the likes of West Virginia and (gulp) Virginia Tech on a week in week out
It may have been fitting
that Coach Holtz appeared by phone at the Thursday media briefing. Had he
been there in person the microphones from the area TV and radio stations may
have actually picked up the puckering sound.
And what does this mean
for conference affiliation? Most likely nothing except that Holland has put
ECU in a position to worry less about that now.
It is no secret that the
Big East is discussing its situation and re-evaluating its future. The
Pirates could well fit as a football-only member but it appears that
decision is still as much as a year away. There are also persistent rumors
that Holland would even consider going independent. This new schedule may
even create that option.
With a couple of home
games each year expected to draw 40,000-plus, East Carolina’s current
situation with Conference USA does not look as undesirable.
So, get your season
tickets now. The Holland Conference will not commence until 2006, but you
can check out your seats while ECU takes on Duke, Southern Miss, Rice,
Central Florida and UAB this fall.
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02/23/2007 10:16:25 AM