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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 124
Wednesday, May 14, 2003

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Muse can't take wait-and-see approach


As ironic as it may seem, the Atlantic Coast Conference could provide a big boost to East Carolina if the league is successful in implementing its plan — reported breathlessly by the media on Tuesday — to expand its membership to 12 schools.

Long thought to be the source of insurmountable resistance to ECU achieving athletic parity with its in-state ACC neighbors, the conference may now be indirectly laying the asphalt for the Pirates' freeway to prosperity.

In fact, when you weigh the pros and cons of expansion for the so-called Big Four — Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, and Wake Forest — East Carolina could feasibly be the in-state school which benefits most from ACC expansion.

Sounds weird, doesn't it?

Not if the Big East comes calling.

It's important to note, though, that's not likely if Chancellor Bill Muse takes a conservative approach.

If Miami takes the bait and hops in the ACC's boat, Syracuse has all but said it will follow suit. Closely riding the 'Cuse's coattails will be Boston College, which is attractive primarily because it boasts one of the nation's premiere television markets, or Virginia Tech, which has an ally of sorts — albeit a reluctant one caught in a political vise — in Virginia.

That would leave the Big East with five football programs, unless of course Pittsburgh bolts for the Big 10, which isn't far-fetched considering Penn State provides a geographical tie.

Such a scenario would have Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese facing two potential options: disband in football, or aggressively seek expansion.

With traditionally-strong Virginia Tech and West Virginia likely left in limbo by the conference shuffle, there would be enough of a foundation to quickly shore up the Big East's football posture without necessarily losing its BCS tie.

That in and of itself should be enough to prompt Muse to do more than just keenly observe the situation from his chateau on 5th Street.

For East Carolina to position itself for Big East inclusion, it's going to take a lot more than a nice won-loss record this fall. Those who think the Pirates are less attractive due to their uncharacteristic 4-8 record last season are mired in short-term thinking — and short-term thinking is not what drives decisions by the power brokers who put together conference alignments and long-term, $100 million TV packages.

East Carolina has the rabid fan base, a winning tradition and a track record of putting fans in the seats when it plays name-brand programs at home or on the road.

The truth is, however, for East Carolina to be given serious consideration for a future Big East slot, Muse will probably find it necessary to be proactive to the extreme in order to firmly wedge ECU into the evolving realignment equation.

Jawboning the chancellors of regional foes West Virginia and Virginia Tech would be the logical first step. Considering the tradition the Pirates have for producing sellouts and surprisingly lofty television ratings when matched against their neighboring Big East rivals, extending the league's boundaries to eastern North Carolina provides more than just a geographical fit.

In all likelihood, it wouldn't take much arm-wrestling to convince West Virginia and Virginia Tech officials to make a push for an ECU bid.

A small television market will likely be used as a mark against ECU, but that's one lame-duck argument Muse can easily shoot down. Though New Bern and Washington are the only additional cities officially included in the Greenville market, the Pirates' viewing area essentially stretches from Wilmington to Virginia Beach, and from the Outer Banks to Raleigh.

Neither Cincinnati nor Memphis — both of which are believed to be ahead of East Carolina in the Big East's pecking order — offer such a diverse market. Perhaps more important, though, neither of those programs is even close to spawning an ECU-style regional football culture in which large numbers of fans follow the team with such passion that they schedule their lives around fall Saturdays.

And as far as television is concerned, Muse can point to East Carolina's lengthy list of national television appearances, which includes memorable victories over Miami in '96 and '99. The Pirates' reputation for stoning Goliaths, along with their tradition for producing spotlight performers, has historically produced respectable ratings.

After all, that is the bottom line that drives all expansion scenarios — which school can generate the most interest and increase revenue when television contracts are re-negotiated.

The task now is for East Carolina to show it can be a financial asset to the Big East's future.

Compared to the mountains Leo Jenkins climbed during his days as chancellor, Muse's challenge seems more like a molehill.

Extreme measures

Senior pitcher Davey Penny's recent dismissal from the baseball program is the latest event in what has been a turbulent season for the Diamond Bucs — both on the field and in the clubhouse.

The move occurred amid rumors that tension is boiling within the program and that first-year head coach Randy Mazey is struggling to control the discord. It has been suggested by observers close to the program that Mazey orchestrated the vote by seniors to oust Penny from the team.

While this is neither the time nor the forum to comment on such statements, it wouldn't be out of bounds to offer an opinion on the severity of the punishment administered to Penny.

If, indeed, Penny's decision not to return to the dugout after a lengthy rain delay was the primary reason for his dismissal, then Mazey's punishment was far too severe. The fact that Penny, a senior who has earned the respect of his teammates both on and off the field, has shown remorse for his actions and, according to sources, apologized to the entire team should have been enough to prompt a more lenient penalty.

Mazey could have easily suspended Penny for the upcoming series with Tulane, which would have sent a clear message that breaching a team policy will not be tolerated.

Instead, the Pirates' skipper chose a more extreme route — and you can't help but wonder if that will further fuel tensions within the program, as opposed to stability and respect.

Wedding bells

Pirates left tackle Brian Rimpf recently added to his list of honors when College Football News named him a preseason 2nd-Team All-American and the Rotary Club of Houston included him on the Lombardi Award watch list for the second year in a row.

On Sunday, the Raleigh senior will reach another milestone — holy matrimony.

"It's a big ordeal," said Rimpf, who plans to begin pursuit of his MBA next fall. "Luckily my fiancιe is taking care of a lot of (the wedding logistics)."

"She and her mom are doing a lot of the plans and keeping me out of it where I don't have to mess it up, so that's good. All I have to do is get the tuxes and show up on time."

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02/23/2007 01:53:08 AM


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