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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, July 14, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

ECU football season takes on extra urgency


ACC move has dual implications for C-USA
League tremors low priority for Rimpf
Tulane CEO bucks BCS, demands reform
Realignment injects urgency into season
Army declares independence
Big East speeds UConn timetable
Bearcats overshadow realignment for ECU
East Carolina fits ACC profile
Can we change the subject, please?
How-to guide: Realigning with class
Friendly merger of leagues adds up
Survival in question for hybrid conferences
Miami Makes the Leap — Now What?
Hurricanes rage over nervous landscape
ACC, Big East on edge about Miami
Leagues caught in eye of the Hurricanes
Media rises to task in ACC-Big East feud

VPI in; Miami ponders; ECU sees opening
ECU chancellor keen on developments
Miami calls timeout to huddle with Big East
BE plans "up front" and "proper" expansion
ACC door cracked open for ECU...?
Mountain West preparing to pounce
Chalk one up for the non-BCS schools
Big East-ACC peace plan in the works?
ECU poised to ride out ACC-Big East storm
ACC deliberations at crossroads
Big Top needed for this circus
Where are you, Governor Easley..?

The arrival of new football coach John Thompson, the demanding 2003 football schedule and a potential move to another conference have been exciting but seemingly separate elements for East Carolina fans to ponder during the offseason.

As the season gets closer with non-conference games against two teams currently in the Big East Conference (West Virginia and Miami) and two against Atlantic Coast Conference teams (Wake Forest and North Carolina), the factors begin to merge.

The ACC and Big East are at least possibilities for the Pirates. The ACC is a long shot and the Big East doesn’t look like it has determined its course. The 2003 season gives ECU a chance to raise the perception of its football program in some potentially important places while expansion continues to simmer. Within Conference USA, the Pirates can improve their standing as a desirable entity compared to other teams in the league.

“The more successful we are in both our football and basketball seasons this next year, the more attractive we’ll be if that opening exists in another conference,” said ECU chancellor WIlliam V. Muse. “This is probably the toughest schedule we’ve had in a long time in football.

“Of course, we’ve got a new coach and coaching staff. I think our expectations for the season are realistic. We recognize that the coaching changeover and recognize the schedule we have and the talent we have, so I’m not trying to put any kind of pressure on Coach (John) Thompson. I know he and his staff will do the best job they can. And I know the kids will give it their very best on the field.

“But it certainly would be good if we had a good season,” he added with a slight chuckle.

Thompson laughed, too, at the prospect of attaching even more meaning to the matchups in his first season as a college head coach. When he took the ECU job in December, Thompson had no idea he might be carrying the Pirates banner in terms of future conference affiliation.

“Every game’s got enough weight on it as it is already,” he said. “I don’t look at it like that at all. I don’t think our players or our coaches would look at it like that. Our responsibility, our role in all of this is to be the best football program we can be. Right now, it’s be the best football program and win as many games as we can in Conference USA or whatever conference we’re ever in. Whether it’s non-conference or in-conference, be the best program we can be and that means winning.

“That means putting a quality product on the field, having a quality product off the field with our guys doing the right things — getting an education, graduating — doing those kinds of things, but it ultimately comes down to also winning the games. If it’s against Conference USA, Big East or ACC, whomever — win the games and good things are going to happen.”

Muse was president at Akron when that institution moved from the Ohio Valley Conference to Division I-A and independent status. The Zips ultimately moved to the Mid-American Conference. The point is that Muse has been close to a conference shift as ECU may be dealing with at some point in the future.

Athletics have been requiring an inordinate amount of Muse’s time and energy in recent months as the ACC’s expansion may open up an opportunity for the Pirates to improve postseason access in football.

“Our objective when all of the dust settles here is for ECU to be a part of an all-sports conference where we have the opportunity to compete for national championships in every sport in which we participate,” he said.

The lack of inclusion for Conference USA’s champion in the bowl championship series is the point that has Muse monitoring a variety of possibilities.

A team from C-USA doesn’t get in unless it finishes in the top six in the formula that produces the BCS standings. That hasn’t happened.

Tulane couldn’t even make the top 10 when it went unbeaten in 1998, although the Green Wave had a relatively-weak non-conference schedule.

ECU may not have the likes of Shaun King at quarterback as Tulane did during the Waves’ perfect season but the Pirates do have a challenging schedule that includes a Sept. 13 trip to meet Miami in the Orange Bowl.

The Hurricanes have played for the last two national titles, winning in 2001. They were denied last season in the championship game against Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl by a controversial pass interference call.

The Pirates' schedule presents opportunities for regional and national recognition.

With ECU attempting to regain its winning stature in football after a 10-14 record over the last two seasons, an immediate turnaround would have some value in terms of perceptions of the Pirates. Muse knows that, but his expectations are realistic. With plans to build a winner for the Pirates over the course of a 5-year contract, Thompson acknowledges that improved postseason access would help in that process.

“Everybody in this program wants to get in a position to play for it all,” he said. “That’s what we want. Whether that takes a couple of years of winning and we’re able to get in the top six in the country or our bowl alliance gets in the BCS or towards a playoff. Whatever.”

Inclusion in the BCS, which is currently contracted through the 2005 season, is a point of demarcation in I-A football. The ACC and Big East are among the six leagues whose champions are assured of a spot in the BCS and reap the system’s ample financial rewards.

A program infused by Thompson’s enthusiasm has a schedule that allows it to raise its stock. The chance that it could be cashed in with a present BCS conference serves to increase the anticipation.

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02/23/2007 12:40:31 AM

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