The final Directors’ Cup standings were announced on Thursday. As I always do, I began going through the list to see where all of North Carolina’s Division I schools placed.
All the usual suspects were there.
North Carolina was the top state finisher in the annual all-sports competition among the nation’s Division I schools at No. 5 overall behind perennial champion Stanford. ACC rivals N.C. State and Duke came in among the top 32 while others like Campbell, Charlotte, Appalachian State and N.C. A&T all had respectable showings.
Even tiny Gardner-Webb got into the act with 26 points, good for 248th place.
But among the 16 North Carolina schools that were listed, one was conspicuously missing.
I assumed it was an accidental omission so I called Tom McClellan, the Pirates’ assistant athletic director for athletic communications, to find out what happened.
Nope, he said, it wasn’t a mistake. A subsequent call to the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, the organization that administers the Directors’ Cup program, provided confirmation.
The reason ECU wasn’t listed in this year’s standings is because the Pirates didn’t score a single point.
That means none of their 17 varsity athletic programs qualified for NCAA tournament play or a football bowl, since Directors’ Cup points are accrued through qualification and advancement in postseason competition.
As disappointing as that fact might be, it’s hardly a revelation. Pirate fans were already well aware that the 2016-17 academic year was nothing to write home about — especially coming on the heels of the previous year’s solid 114th-place finish (with 150.50 points).
The Directors’ Cup shutout only serves to drive the point home.
It’s said that timing is everything in life and in this case, the bad news couldn’t have picked a worse time to be delivered. Just 24 hours earlier, ECU chancellor Cecil Staton announced that athletic director Jeff Compher had been rewarded with a new five-year contract extension with an adjusted base salary of $435,000.
To be fair, Compher has achieved his share of success during his first four years in Greenville.
He’s been the driving force behind a number of facilities improvements, including the upcoming renovation of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, and a record-breaking fund-raising effort that has generated $33.87 million in Pirate Club revenue.
He has helped guide ECU through the transition from Conference USA to the more prestigious and financially lucrative American Athletic Conference while overseeing a rebranding initiative and negotiating a new athletic apparel deal with Adidas.
Under Compher’s watch, the Pirates have made significant strides in both the community and the classroom — where their cumulative 3.02 grade point average for 2016-17 was their highest since calculations began four years ago.
But as solid as that resume might be, the only true measure of an athletic program’s success is in the win column. And the inescapable fact, as those Directors’ Cup standings so vividly illustrate, is that ECU’s teams aren’t winning as frequently now as they were when Compher first arrived.
What makes the situation all the more troubling is the inconsistency with which Compher has handled that decline.
He set the bar high when he fired football coach Ruffin McNeill in 2015 after one losing season, stating that “the trajectory of the program was not going in the right direction” and “was not meeting competitive expectations,” even though the team lost its starting quarterback to injury a week before the opening game.
And yet, he continues to stick by men’s basketball coach Jeff Lebo despite just two winning seasons in his seven years at ECU and none since 2013.
By rewarding Compher with a fresh five-year deal, one full year before it had to be renewed and 24 hours before that embarrassing Directors’ Cup shutout, Staton has showed the same kind of faith in his AD that the AD has in his basketball coach.
Now it’s time for both, along with second-year football coach Scottie Montgomery and everyone else associated with the program, to stand and deliver.
In the end Compher’s ability to serve out the entire length of his new contract won’t — or at least shouldn’t — be determined by graduation rates, facilities improvements and the amount of money raised. Rather, its the trajectory in which his program is going and the ability of his leadership to foster competitive expectations.