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View from the East
Monday, July 4, 2011

By Al Myatt

Football impacts the diamond


ECU should ignore Appalachian
Football impacts the diamond
Holland coaching tree branches out
Connors makes way for movie
Q&A with Brian Mitchell
Baseball Polls: Pirates ranked 29th by NCBWA
Q&A with Lincoln Riley
Season will hinge on Davis's supporting cast
ECU foursome set for debut on the big stage
One-on-One with...
(ECU Media Relations Photos)

Bonesville features writer Ron Cherubini conducted Q&A exchanges with East Carolina offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley (left) and Pirate defensive boss Brian Mitchell (right). The net result: candid glimpses into the thinking inside the program heading into next season. Links to the interviews:

Lincoln Riley Q&A
Brian Mitchell Q&A

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Omaha has had some history as a land of opportunity for programs playing outside the plush resources enjoyed by teams from the conferences with automatic qualifiers to college football's Bowl Championship Series postseason structure.

Rice won the College World Series in 2003, Cal State-Fullerton captured the prize in 2004 and Fresno State emerged with the NCAA baseball title in 2008.

There were no such Cinderellas in 2011. None of the so-called mid-majors, which includes Conference USA and East Carolina, survived the Super Regionals.

This year's field of North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Texas, Florida, California, Virginia, South Carolina and Texas A&M were all members of the power conferences. That's three from the Southeastern Conference, two from the Atlantic Coast Conference, two from the Big 12 and one from the Pac 10, which incidentally became the Pac-12 with expansion on Friday.

ECU has been working diligently to enhance its appeal for inclusion in a power conference's future expansion.

Funds from the lucrative BCS can help pay coaches' salaries, build better facilities and fatten recruiting budgets — all factors which can impact the success of an overall athletic program.

The Pirates have determined that basketball is the weak entry on their overall resume. The working theory of many observers is that more consistent success in hoops could culminate in an invitation from the Big East is the theory. That casts ECU's efforts to follow up on last season's 18-16 record on the hardwood in a new light. Continued hoops progress appears to be as important to baseball success — given the exclusively BCS composition of the CWS in 2011 — as coach Billy Godwin's efforts to replenish the Pirate pitching staff.

ECU is working on basketball. Coach Jeff Lebo appears to be laying a good foundation for the future, and fundraising for a new practice facility definitely is coming together. The situation looks promising and there is a dynamic evolving in another realm that could have significance for the Pirates and their situation of virtual exclusion from the BCS.

The U.S. Justice Department has been asking questions regarding the BCS's status in terms of possible antitrust violation. BCS executive director Bill Hancock reportedly met with some Justice Department representatives last Thursday.

The Salt Lake Tribune has reported that Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff plans to file an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS this fall.

The newspaper stated that, "The lawsuit will seek damages for so-called ‘non-BCS schools’ that have lost out on millions of dollars over the years because the existing system keeps such non-preferred conferences such as the Mountain West — Utah’s former conference home — at a competitive disadvantage, Shurtleff has said.

"Under the current system, conference champions from the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, (Pac-12) and Southeastern Conference get automatic bids to five BCS bowls, while teams from leagues such as the MWC, (C-USA) and Western Athletic Conference ... must meet more difficult criteria to qualify for one of the more lucrative bowls."

Hancock has expressed confidence that the BCS is not in violation of antitrust regulations.

I remain among those who would like to see a 16-team playoff in college football with the conference champions in the NCAA's highest division. At-large teams would complete the bracket. Conduct the playoff within the present bowl structure and leave other existing bowls as a reward for programs who don't make the playoffs.

Restructuring the current system in football could have broader implications in terms of competitiveness in other sports as well, or perhaps ECU basketball will improve to the extent that a power conference will absorb the Pirates.

Either scenario could be beneficial to ECU.

Godwin glances back, thinks ahead

ECU went 41-21 in baseball in 2011 and 14-10 in Conference USA for third place in the league.

"Looking back, winning 41 games, the conference we're in and the schedule we played, that is certainly gratifying," said Pirates coach Billy Godwin. "At the same time, we're nowhere near satisfied because we want to play in the College World Series. That's still our goal.

"I was pleased with a lot of things. I was pleased with the way we played down the stretch, particularly starting with going to Tulane, sweeping there. We played well in the conference tournament. Getting in a (NCAA) regional and going 2-2. It only ends good for one team, when it's all said and done.

"At the same time, all that we do and turning the page, now we're out recruiting and getting our incoming recruits in. We've still got Omaha in the big picture."

The Pirates have a lot of pitching to replace.

"We have a chance to lose 350 innings out of 540, I think," Godwin said. "We have some experienced guys back, guys who threw some big games with Kevin (Brandt), Shawn (Armstrong) possibly, which we anticipate he'll return. Joseph Hughes pitched some big innings for us. We think (Austin) Chrismon in a regular year on a regular staff would have thrown 50 to 70 innings. He just got kind of bogged down but he threw really well for us when he did throw.

"We've got some guys we're excited about returning who are ready to take a step up who have done some good things. We also have five of our incoming recruits who were pitchers who were drafted. They're the kind of arms we've got to get to campus. We've got talent and help on the way, but somebody else also thinks they're pretty good, too. We've got to kind of battle through that this summer like a lot of good programs do."

The deadline for players to sign pro contracts is August 15.

"Within the last month and a half, I've been in every one of their living rooms, from Albany, New York, to Sneads Ferry, North Carolina," Godwin said. "They all have, from A to Z, something different they're looking for. It's an individual deal. I personally feel good about it but I'm an optimistic person. We could lose a guy or two.

"The thing we do when we go in there is we kind of resell school, East Carolina, the value of an education, pitching at East Carolina, pitching in the environment. We feel like our level of play is the equivalent of Double-A, which they may not reach until they would be out of school. ... We think we play at a high A to Double-A level, brand of baseball. They're all the things we're pushing. One thing we don't have is money. I think all the kids I met with are very serious about their commitment, their educational commitment to come to East Carolina but they also have an asking price. We're just going to monitor that until the 15th of August."

No excuses on NCAA draw

East Carolina was the No. 2 seed for the Charlottesville regional, which featured Virginia, the top-seed in the 64-team field, as the No. 1 seed. The Pirates made the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in Godwin's six-year tenure. ECU holds the distinction of being the last team to knock South Carolina out of the NCAA Tournament in a dramatic regional final in Greenville in 2009.

The seedings have the greatest significance in the regionals and super regionals because there is a home field advantage involved. Once teams make it to Omaha for the CWS, that is essentially a neutral field.

"There's a pronounced advantage for anybody that hosts," Godwin said. "It reiterates the fact of how important it is to host. I'm not a guy who points fingers. I point the thumb. We need to play well enough that we can host. I've said that. The one regional that we won in my six years — we were at home.

"When you don't put yourself in position to host, you're going to have to go on the road and beat a good team, usually in their back yard. It is what it is.

"I didn't make any excuses with our kids. I didn't talk about that with the media because it's not anything you can make excuses about. Virginia is very good, no doubt, and they were playing good. It's one thing to be good but when you're playing good and then you're at home — you have to tip your hat to them. It's more about them and what they've accomplished.

"What we've got to do is continue to put ourselves in position to host that regional, get it back to Greenville, so that we can have that environment."

E-mail Al Myatt

Al Myatt Archives

07/04/2011 01:52 AM


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