As Western Carolina prepares to travel East for the season opener at 6 p.m. on Saturday night, East Carolina, in a figurative sense, is heading West.
The Pirates are expanding their base beyond the standard concept of their region East of I-95, a move that may enhance their appeal to possible Big 12 Conference expansion.
If you think the final football practice at Rocky River High School in Charlotte before classes started in Greenville was just an accommodation for a concert at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, there’s more to it than that.
“Coach [Scottie] Montgomery gets it,” said Charlotte Pirate Club president Doug Groome, whose group will have three viewing party locations including a downtown gathering point in the Queen City this year. “Coach Mo said he will be in the area often. There are a lot of good high school football players in Charlotte and the university’s best opportunities for growth are West of I-95.”
Montgomery is from the Shelby area.
ECU already has a school of dental medicine clinic in Lillington, between Fayetteville and Raleigh.
When new chancellor Dr. Cecil Staton says ECU can be the next great national university, he’s not talking about just continuing to plow the traditional purple and gold furrows of the coastal plain.
As Dr. Staton pointed out in a July 26 letter to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby obtained by Jake Trotter, who covers the Power Five league for ESPN, “North Carolina is the tenth largest state in the country with a population of almost 10 million people and is the sixth fastest growing state in the nation.”
Dr. Staton commented further, “The combined television Designated Market Area (DMA) of Greenville, Raleigh, Wilmington and Charlotte amounts to 2,793,820 and would constitute the fifth largest DMA in the country.”
That likely was what athletic director Jeff Compher was referring to when he said “ECU could deliver the entire state of North Carolina” to the Big 12 in another correspondence to Bowlsby on July 28.
The ECU Educational Foundation, better known as the Pirate Club, has grasped the expansion strategy by stationing directors of development, Kyle Verber, in Raleigh and, Jared Brinkley, in Charlotte.
Groome was busy transporting water for fans during the heat of the scrimmage at Rocky River but said Brinkley “signed up a bunch for the Pirate Club,” during the football program’s session there.
In areas of education such as business, medicine and music, ECU has been considered among the best nationally. There really are no weak links in the academic chain which prepares students to serve in the region and beyond.
Historically, there have been some brushes with the NCAA, as is the case with most institutions — but no major sanctions. ECU runs clean programs.
The roadways to the West are two-way streets. Some of the best athletes — David Garrard, Akeem Richmond and Pat Watkins among them — were produced on the other side of that interstate corridor.
ECU’s power points also include the impressive volume of Pirate Club members and Group of Five leadership in football attendance.
Charlotte has long been receptive to overtures from the East.
There were 47,860 on hand at now-Bank of America Stadium when the Pirates started the 1999 season with a 30-23 win over West Virginia.
A crowd of 72,169, which included many Virginia Tech supporters in 2008, witnessed a 27-22 ECU win over the Hokies.
A lot of higher-ups as well as grass roots folks who sport the eye-patch logo of the Pirates appear to have their vision trained on developing the ECU brand across the state.
Hopefully, the strategy will not be to the detriment of the region East Carolina has traditionally served so well.
If the Big 12 sees the potential as ECU thinks outside the box and its region, the Pirates could enhance their perception in some important decision-making locales.
It’s an aggressive approach but ECU’s tremendous growth over the years from its origins as a teachers college has been consistently characterized by attacking boldly.
That’s what Pirates do.