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View from the East
Thursday, November 29, 2012

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Ruff has a new tool in his bag

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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Ruffin McNeill hit the road Wednesday morning to do some recruiting and the East Carolina football coach had a new dimension to attract potential players, pending membership for the Pirates in the Big East Conference.

The incoming freshmen class that ECU will sign in February can figure to play the bulk of their careers in the Big East.

McNeill is not one of those head coaches who has tired of recruiting in his rise through the coaching ranks. He wishes there weren't so many restrictions on head coaches being involved with prospects. It is an essential phase of program development that he enjoys and one at which he continues to excel.

"We have a little something different to sell and present to the young men," McNeill said Wednesday via cell phone as he dealt with traffic around Raleigh on his way west. "It was a great announcement. It does give you some more fodder as you go into the homes."

I remember former ECU coach Steve Logan saying that Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer had told him that the Hokies program turned the corner with admission to the Big East because of all the living rooms it got Beamer and his staff into for recruiting.

"I know it's going to be a great benefit as far as exposure," said the current Pirates coach. "Our program has done a good job of selling itself when the kids come up, but I'm sure this will be a definite benefit for us."

The Big East of Logan's days had a markedly different membership than the one the Pirates agreed to become a part of this week. Much of that Big East has migrated to the ACC and it appears that much of the Big East that ECU will compete in is actually a rendezvous of former Conference USA programs.

Who really knows where conference affiliations will stand in 2014 when ECU is scheduled to make its move from C-USA?

Still, ECU has landed the white whale that it has pursued for years. As Chancellor Steve Ballard said Tuesday, it's a validation of what athletic director Terry Holland and many in the Pirate Nation have been working toward for a long time.

"I've been trying to get into the Big East since I was 10," Ballard joked.

It was nice to hear Big East commissioner Mike Aresco and Judy Genshaft, the South Florida president who is chairman of the Big East's board of directors, welcome the Pirates aboard on Tuesday. Given their glowing comments, one wonders why the invitation didn't come sooner. Much sooner.

Maybe it was just a coincidence that ECU gained membership within hours of Louisville's departure to the ACC. Maybe it was just a trivial piece of history that the Cardinals were the primary stumbling block to ECU's admission to C-USA in 1997. Maybe not.

As in its previous move from independent status to C-USA, ECU has initially been accepted for football only.

Holland and executive associate athletic director Nick Floyd have to find a home for 18 other sports at ECU that aren't included in the Big East's immediate plans.

Secondary status in the Big East apparently was considered more valuable than remaining a full member in C-USA.

The current state of league affiliation is certainly each man for himself. ECU's course of action jettisons Charlotte and Old Dominion to an extent. Those incoming C-USA members envisioned a regional rivalry with the Pirates.

In contrast to McNeill, basketball coach Jeff Lebo and baseball coach Billy Godwin don't know what to tell recruits at the present time about the competitive framework for their programs beyond 2013.

Is the grass really greener in the Big East?

It seems the Big East and C-USA as parts of "the group of five" will be on equal footing when the college football playoff formula is revised. It's actually not the grass that matters. It's the long green, the projected revenues. Hopefully, the powers that be at ECU have done the math and the decision is a good one.

Bowl prep not forsaken

ECU will have its bowl destination determined by the outcome of the C-USA championship game on Saturday when Central Florida visits Tulsa. A Knights win means the Pirates play in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL, on Friday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. With a Tulsa win, the Pirates return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 22, at noon.

The Pirate players have four days of workouts with strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors this week.

"Class is a priority and treatment with sports medicine," McNeill said. "We'll have two days of skeleton throwing, catching and defending. The offensive line will do drills on their own. (Offensive coordinator) Lincoln (Riley) is there and some of the coaches are there. They'll be supervising."

Actual practice for the bowl game will begin next week.

Thoughts on league showdown

Central Florida handed ECU its only C-USA defeat this season, 40-20, in Orlando on Thursday, Oct. 4, a game the Pirates led 14-0 before a kickoff return for a score gave the Knights momentum that they parlayed into a victory.

Tulsa topped UCF 23-21 at home on Nov. 17.

"I think it's going to be a great game," McNeill said. "Central Florida may have some incentive because Tulsa beat 'em. ... Tulsa's playing at home, which maybe gives them a balance because they're in front of their crowd. It'll be a tough ball game and we know we'll be playing in New Orleans or Florida."

McNeill didn't express a preference as to postseason destination.

"I learned a long time ago when I first got into college coaching 27 years ago, all bowls are good bowls," said the Pirates coach. "There are only 70 teams now that are picked to go to bowl games. East Carolina is one of those 70. I'm looking forward to playing either place. The Florida bowl would be good for our fans but the New Orleans bowl would be good as well because our fans travel so well.

"I'm excited about either one. I'm looking forward to finding out which one so we can start preparing and our fans can start preparing, too."

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11/29/2012 12:50 AM


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