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Pirate Notebook No. 244
Monday, June 13, 2005

By Denny O'Brien

Fans must take ownership in turnaround


So, what was your reaction to the news that N.C. State was adding Appalachian as its 12th game for the 2006 season?

Did you immediately fire an angry e-mail to your state senator requesting an explanation for the hypocritical approach "Moo U" is taking towards scheduling in-state, non-conference opponents?

Or, maybe you surfed over to your favorite Internet message board or personal homepage and blogged a dissertation about the cowardice of those villains from State College for padding their home slate with another I-AA foe?

Not me. I gave Wolfpack athletics director Lee Fowler a standing 'O' for penciling in a guaranteed victory for 2006, while also guaranteeing another sellout.

Because in case you haven't noticed, that happens a lot in West Raleigh these days. Regardless of the opponent, the Wolfpack's record, or the day on which the game is played, the only tickets that are obtained on game day at Carter-Finley Stadium are done so illegally.

Take note East Carolina fans: The Red menace has reached the next level. Maybe not on the field — the passion has far exceeded the results at this stage — but definitely in the area that gets the most attention of television and bowl executives.

From that angle, it's hard not to acknowledge the progress State has made in its secondary sport. The Pack likely could host Millbrook High and still send fans into the type of frenzy in which they would spend the week leading up to the showdown preparing for the "Game of the Century."

That's the area in which East Carolina needs the most immediate success in football, especially at a time when its administration could use major selling points to woo potential conference suitors.

It's no secret the Pirates would welcome an invitation to join the Big East. Since the inception of the Bowl Championship Series, East Carolina's uphill climb has gotten even steeper, with its biggest recruiting rivals reaping the benefits that come with inclusion in college football's aristocracy.

Despite all the obstacles in ECU's path and the ones it might face in the future, its constituency has always been the glue that has kept its athletics mission on course. The problem is, the group's visible purple core has shrunk considerably over the past three years and needs to regain its old form if the Pirates are to achieve all of their ambitious goals.

While there is no denying that new coach Skip Holtz will shoulder a hefty load in this rebuilding effort, East Carolina can't afford for fans to stay idle and wait for the ship to return to its traditional course. If that's the approach, the opportunity to join the Big East could pass the Pirates by before postseason bowls return to the annual schedule.

Contrary to the strategy Big East president's used in their first round of expansion, rest assured that any future additions to the league will include programs with strong gridiron histories that are supported by faithful fans. Of the three new football members the Big East will baptize this fall, only Louisville meets that description.

With some of the league's bowl affiliates hesitant to renew agreements, East Carolina becomes a more attractive option for future expansion if it can revive its fan support.

That doesn't mean the occasional game in which the attendance tops 40,000. The last time I checked, Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium seats 43,000, a number East Carolina has met or exceeded only thrice since the facility last expanded before the 1999 season.

As for the explanation for East Carolina's relatively modest attendance numbers of late, that is twofold: a poor showing on the field and an unattractive lineup of opponents.

But neither is an excuse that washes by major college standards. Case in point, South Carolina historically has taken its share of lumps on the field, but that hasn't deterred its passionate fans from filling the seats.

You honestly didn't think the Gamecocks were extended an invitation to the Southeastern Conference because of their history of dominant football success, did you?

If East Carolina ever needed its fans to pull together and regenerate the passion that once existed on fall Saturdays, that time is now. ECU is operating in an unstable climate, and it shouldn't take some magical quota of wins by Holtz or a creative marketing scheme to fill the stadium.

That's really the bottom line in this simple scenario. If ECU wants to retain its niche as a football school, its fans need to solve their part of the equation.

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02/23/2007 02:00:06 AM

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