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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, September 29, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Bye week may be going, going, gone

Twelve-game schedules may make moot any debate about the pros and cons of off weeks

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I have four kids nine and under, so I thrive on barely-controlled chaos and I embrace the rare opportunity to step away from it all. When I get that chance to go out without my kids for an evening or even a weekend, I sometimes tell them that I will be a better mother after I have had a break.

But the truth is, sometimes I’m not a more patient or more consistent mom after I return home from an escape. At times I realize that I’m even quicker to snap at my kids or to get exasperated with them, because I have had a pause in my normal routine and responsibilities.

In football, a bye week is the equivalent of a weekend reunion with my college roommates – it provides a welcome breather from the routine. But even though us media types tend to hype up the bye week as a magical cure for what ails a team, the week off is just as likely to end in a loss as in a victory.

A survey of the Pirates’ past 20 years on the gridiron turned up 17 bye weeks in those two decades, and only eight of those 17 led to an East Carolina victory. Four times ECU actually went from a victory on the game day before the bye to a defeat afterwards. And the reverse has also been true four times – a Pirate loss simmering slowly and becoming a win two weeks later.

That last result, of course, is the one the 2006 Pirates aspire to, with a 27-10 loss to West Virginia directly behind them and a home date with the University of Virginia ahead. In the best-case scenario, this back-to-basics bye week might yield the type of result enjoyed by the 1999 Pirates, who went from a 29-22 Southern Miss loss to a 52-7 victory over Tulane.

Obviously, bye weeks are only one of the ripples that cause the crests and troughs of win-loss records. The talent and experience of the team, whether a game is home or away, and the strength of the opponent are all crucial factors.

And even if bye weeks offer no guarantees for future team success, they are still necessary for the same reason that I need evenings away from home every once in a while – because rest and changes in routine are necessary and good even without quantifiable results.

Whether the cause-and-effect relationship between bye weeks and victories is real or perceived can’t be proved definitively, but a move away from byes in Division IA will mean fewer opportunities to provide data. With the move to a 12-game schedule this summer, teams like those in the Big Ten are playing this season without a breather. Purdue even has 13 consecutive games with no open date.

For teams like the Pirates, the loss of the bye week could take away valuable recuperation time for injured players. But the movement seems to be clear – more games, less dead space on the college schedule.

While some big-name coaches have expressed dissent about the disappearing open date, South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier thinks that football players should be tough enough withstand 12 games in row without complaining.

“"I think it's easy to play 12 games," Spurrier told a college football website. "The Division I-AA guys, when they get in the playoffs, I think they play 14 or 15. It's no problem at all for them. I watch basketball, girls' basketball, and they'll play four straight nights at the SEC tournament. I don't hear them complaining that they're playing too much."

For 16 years the open date has been a standby in the NFL, where a longer season makes it even more necessary than in college.

Even though ECU got in its requisite 12 games in addition to a bye week this year, the time may be coming soon when the Pirates will have to say bye-bye, bye. Until then, the Pirate faithful can hold on to this bye week and hope that it is remembered as a catalyst that turned a young 1-3 squad into winners.

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02/23/2007 01:13:19 AM

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