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Notes, Quotes and Slants


Pirate Notebook No. 123
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Time for C-USA to revisit expansion issue


With Tulane now mulling a step back to I-AA and the ACC seriously considering a significant increase in membership, Conference USA's number one priority should be abundantly clear.

The bottom line: Unless first-year commissioner Britton Banowsky moves expansion to the top of his agenda, the adolescent league could get lost in the shuffle.

"(Expansion) probably would be a good idea," Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower said last summer. "Just looking at the number, if you're sitting at 11, it looks like the intent is to go to 12 and have a championship game.

"That's going to generate a lot of revenue and more exposure for our league. Who you add to the league, I don't know. I'm not sure how it will happen."

How is no longer the important question for presidents of the league's schools to ponder — it's why.

In addition to the obvious reasons — bigger paydays and increased television exposure — an even better motive has emerged. Without the addition of another respectable gridiron member, C-USA will have no chance of convincing the BCS cartel that it deserves consideration for inclusion.

Until C-USA can get a slice of the BCS pie, it can expect the gap between itself and the power leagues to widen, a notion which recent history supports.

Ideally, this wouldn't be a topic for debate right now, but former commissioner Mike Slive fumbled his touchdown opportunity last year. Instead of extending an invitation to ready-and-willing Central Florida, Slive flirted heavily with Marshall, which seemed perfectly content playing hard-to-get.

As a result, C-USA must deal with the side effects of not capitalizing on the one true benefit of its television agreement with ESPN — a guaranteed nationally televised championship game on ABC — which would have significantly enhanced the league's image to viewers.

By and large, network television has become a barometer for measuring a conference's credibility, and that alone should be enough to propel expansion discussions.

Add to that the potential free-for-all that may commence if the Big East is raided and the C-USA office shouldn't have to do much arm-twisting to get the league presidents to unite on the expansion issue.

The question then becomes who — and how many. After all, it's not just Tulane that may fall by the wayside. The cloudy financial futures of both Houston and UAB far from guarantee their long-term existence as Division I-A programs.

In the more immediate future, C-USA would benefit greatly by adding a school which boasts a respectable program with the potential for growth, preferably one which fits geographically while bringing a solid fan base and large television market to the table.

Given that criteria, Central Florida would have to be the all-out favorite, and adding the Knights before any potential shake-ups in the Big East could help position C-USA position itself for a BCS spot when all the conference shuffling begins.

Adding UCF would also create an instantaneous mega-rivalry between the Knights and current C-USA member South Florida. Heated in-state rivalries of this sort have been severely lacking since the league's inception.

Make no mistake, though, it will take a lot more than Central Florida to propel C-USA into the BCS fraternity, with much of the maneuvering out of the league's control. A breakup of the Big East and a fusion with a couple of its members — West Virginia and Virginia Tech, for example — would almost have to occur.

Meanwhile, league presidents should begin seriously addressing the relevant issues that are within their grasp.

Otherwise, C-USA will almost certainly remain in its current position — on the outside looking in.

Rainer shines

Former East Carolina defensive back Kevin Monroe often compared his position to being on an island. Throughout Brandon Rainer's first three seasons, his island has been a popular one for opposing offenses to invade.

Rainer, a rising senior from Laurinburg, has spent much of his career trying to shed the image of a guy who can't finish plays. Against North Carolina in 2001, his near-interception of an errant Ronald Curry pass landed in the waiting arms of Tar Heels tight end Zach Hilton for a touchdown, proving costly in a heartbreaking 24-21 loss.

However, this spring proved prosperous for Rainer, who appears to have again solidified his spot in the Pirates' starting lineup. First-year coach John Thompson has sung his praises and will be counting on him to help turn around the much-maligned East Carolina secondary.

"Brandon Rainer has really had a good spring," Thompson said. "Nobody's noticed him because he's a corner. That's good when you don't notice them over there."

Rainer would second that.

Garrard facing tough road

Jacksonville made a major statement about its quarterback future Saturday. Former Marshall standout Byron Leftwich is the city's new favorite son.

East Carolina all-time leading passer David Garrard was being groomed last year as the heir apparent to longtime Jaguars starter Mark Brunell and had gained favor with then-Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin. However a coaching change following the season altered that equation, despite a solid performance by Garrard in mini-camp.

Though Garrard isn't about to concede his spot on the depth chart, he faces an uphill fight. By drafting Leftwich seventh overall, the Jaguars have no choice but to give most of the repetitions in practice to their big-money player.

A fierce competitor, Garrard must widely separate himself from Leftwich this summer in order to keep the No. 2 job. If so, the Durham native could potentially see plenty of action next season, especially considering Brunell's medical history.

The best-case scenario would have Garrard performing well enough to attract trade interest from a franchise in need of a budding field general with plenty of upside. If not, the road to NFL stardom could get longer.

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02/23/2007 01:51:25 AM


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