Insights and Observations
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
By Henry Hinton
Are Pirate program and fans up
to the BCS test?
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Not only are a bowl game
and potential trip to the Conference USA championship game on the line this
Saturday when Marshall visits East Carolina, an argument can be made that
the very future of the Pirate program is at stake.
Too dramatic? Overstated?
Maybe. But maybe not.
For years, Pirate fans
have made claims that they want ECU to be a big-time football school. The
program has flirted with the so-called big-time, finishing the 1991 season
with a Top Ten ranking. Sustaining that level of national prominence has
Adding to the difficulty,
the creation of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998 separated Division I-A
programs into two distinct groups — the haves and the have nots — and since
that time East Carolina has once again been on the outside looking in.
Other members of C-USA
will forgive Terry Holland when he says that ECU is “keeping its options
open” with regard to league affiliation. They understand that the Pirate
program would jump at a chance to gain membership in a BCS conference. They
understand it because they would do the very same.
The question is when and
if ECU will have that chance. We continue to hear that there is going to be
more expansion and restructuring of BCS leagues. The Big East certainly
appears to be a candidate, but at this moment the commissioner of that
league is drawing a line when it comes to who it will invite to join their
party. At this time, it is clear that East Carolina is not on his wish list.
Since the departure of
Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to the Atlantic Coast Conference,
rumors have swirled about the Big East’s future. Prior to this season, there
were a lot of sportswriters and reporters who were ready to write the
Now it appears Louisville
or Rutgers could be playing for the national championship. Add West
Virginia’s high ranking and the Big East has silenced its critics. For now.
However, schools inside
that league have scheduling problems due to the fact that there are
currently just eight members. That means each school in the Big East has to
schedule five non-conference games each year instead of the desired four.
A ninth football-only
member would solve that problem for the member schools. Coaches and athletic
directors have publicly stated that they would like to have a ninth member,
but Commissioner Mike Tranghese is now publicly stating that any new member
will have to enhance the league’s standing — and he does not see anyone
available that can do that.
That brings us to this
weekend’s ECU game with Marshall. Filling the stands for a game like this
one is imperative if the Pirate program expects to catch anyone’s attention.
As of Tuesday morning, the university was predicting a possible 40,000-plus
crowd, depending on student pick-up this week.
Along with ECU there are
other Big East hopefuls. Central Florida and Memphis from C-USA are hoping
to catch the eye of a BCS league. There is also talk that Navy would like to
be considered. This past week, Tranghese hinted that none of these schools
are on his radar screen.
"I think we would at some
point look at an additional football member," Tranghese told the Lexington
(KY) Herald-Leader. "But it is going to have to be someone that makes us
better. And candidly, I think the people that are available don't
necessarily make us any better. I know who the people are that would make us
better and they aren't available. They are going to have to call us because
we are not going to go out there and start tampering."
It sounds as if Tranghese
has a wish list but it is clear that ECU is not on his mind today. He goes
on to say that he has continued discussions with Notre Dame about scheduling
more Big East games and the Irish have agreed. Notre Dame is already in the
league for basketball but has chosen to keep its football program
independent due to its attractive national standing with television.
What could change this
for ECU is the renewal of the spirit and success the Pirate program
experienced in the ‘nineties. The 2006 season has proven that Pirate fans
want a winner and appreciate one, but that alone will not be enough to
overcome the stigma that seems to be attached to the program in Tranghese’s
eyes after stumping its toe in the early part of this decade.
There is no question that
the timing of the collapse of the ECU program came at the worst possible
moment. While bringing in Louisville seemed to make sense after the ACC
raid, many are still scratching their heads over the Big East's decision to
admit South Florida and Cincinnati over the Pirates.
It seems the best case
will be made for ECU to move into the Big East or any BCS Conference if the
Pirates keep showing up on the field and Pirate fans show up in the stands.
Saturday’s game is an opportunity to show the football world that the
program belongs among the nation’s elite again.
That kind of response
gives Terry Holland and Steve Ballard the ammunition necessary to promote
the ECU program to those who really matter, namely the presidents and
athletic directors of any league looking for a new member.
After all, keep in mind
that while he carries great clout, the commissioner does not have a vote.
Hopefully, Pirate fans will send a message on Saturday that support for
their team is not conditional on a marquee’ opponent.
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This page updated
04/21/08 07:05 PM.