I have something of a ritual any time the PowerBall jackpot balloons above a certain three-digit threshold.
As soon as I wake up on the morning after the drawing, I immediately head downstairs to check my numbers in hopes that I’ve got the winning ticket — or as I like to call it, cashing in on my retirement plan — knowing full well that there’s literally no chance that I do.
That’s a little like the experience East Carolina chancellor Cecil Staton and athletic director Jeff Compher had on Wednesday. Only the estimated jackpot in this instance was the $30 million or so difference in revenue between what a member the Big 12 takes in and the Pirates’ current payout from the American Athletic Conference.
Staton and Compher probably felt an initial rush of excitement when they first saw an email from Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby waiting in their inbox. But the anticipation was undoubtedly tempered by the realization that the enclosed message contained bad news.
And it did.
Bowlsby officially ended ECU’s long-shot bid to join the Power 5 conference by informing its administrators that the school was no longer a candidate for the Big 12’s proposed expansion.
Despite everything the Pirates have to offer, not the least of which is Compher’s promise of “delivering the entire state of North Carolina,” the rejection was hardly a surprise to anyone other than the most fervently optimistic faction of their fan base.
The Big 12, after all, is in catchup mode with the SEC, Big Ten and even the ACC now that the latter has reached a deal with ESPN to begin a dedicated television challenge of its own. ECU simply doesn’t have the national brand recognition the conference desires or needs.
“The chip [on our shoulder] just got a little bigger today,” Compher said.
That doesn’t mean the Pirates’ effort was a waste of time, effort or money — regardless of how inevitable the result might have been. The bid was actually a savvy move that helped address the very problem that led to ECU being cut from Bowlsby’s “preferred list” of 6-8 finalists in the first place.
By simply thrusting themselves into the Big 12 conversation, the Pirates succeeded in introducing themselves to a much larger segment of the college sports community than ever before. It was a much more effective advertising campaign than a series of “Arrrrrgh!” billboards posted along the state’s Interstate highways.
“While it is obviously not the decision we were hoping for, I am confident ECU put forth its best effort during this process,” Compher said in a statement reacting to Wednesday’s rejection. “Through a determined approach we were able to tell our story to not only the Big 12, but the entire nation.”
It’s a newfound awareness that could ultimately pay off for the Pirates should the Big 12 or any of its other Power 5 cousins decide to expand again at some point in the future.
Of more immediate concern, the higher national profile could end up being a saving grace should the Big 12’s expansion plans turn into a full-scale raid of the AAC and send ECU into scramble mode similar to that of the remaining members of the old Big East after the ACC’s crippling purge.
That doesn’t seem likely at this point, especially if the Big 12 decides to accept only two new members and one of them turns out to be independent BYU.
But there are no guarantees.
With Mark Blaudschun of TMGcollegsports.com reporting that AAC rivals Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis, UConn, South Florida and Central Florida are all among the schools still under consideration by the Big 12, ECU officials need to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.
Even if it means taking a flyer on a long-shot every now and then and buying a few PowerBall tickets whenever the jackpot balloons above a certain irresistible threshold.