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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Thursday, July 3, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

TV geography might be ECU's hidden ace


Realignment not the focus of ECU football
East Carolina fits ACC profile
Can we change the subject, please?
How-to guide: Realigning with class
Friendly merger of leagues adds up
Survival in question for hybrid conferences
Miami Makes the Leap — Now What?
Hurricanes rage over nervous landscape
ACC, Big East on edge about Miami
Leagues caught in eye of the Hurricanes
Media rises to task in ACC-Big East feud

VPI in; Miami ponders; ECU sees opening
ECU chancellor keen on developments
Miami calls timeout to huddle with Big East
BE plans "up front" and "proper" expansion
ACC door cracked open for ECU...?
Mountain West preparing to pounce
Chalk one up for the non-BCS schools
Big East-ACC peace plan in the works?
ECU poised to ride out ACC-Big East storm
ACC deliberations at crossroads
Big Top needed for this circus
Where are you, Governor Easley..?

As the Big East plans its future one factor that it should consider in the aftermath of its losses to the Atlantic Coast Conference is that it will no longer have a presence in the mid-Atlantic region, a position previously held down by departing Virginia Tech.

In the great scramble to annex television markets that has driven the start of the domino process of conference realignment, East Carolina represents a connection to Tidewater Virginia and key metropolitan areas in North Carolina. That alone makes the Pirates a desirable quantity by a measuring standard some have described as a potential weakness in what ECU brings to the table.

Losing Miami and Virginia Tech, its two Southern outposts, makes the Big East much less of a national entity and much more of a regionally-oriented grouping.

Logical answer for two leagues

The Big East also needs to evaluate its standing in terms of an automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series when that pact expires after the 2005 season. Providing the BCS itself survives with a new contractual agreement, the Big East may keep a bid for its champion by replacing the quality that the Hokies and Hurricanes represented with quantity.

That situation should be in the forefront of conversations between a rebuilding Big East and Conference USA. C-USA, of course, currently lacks direct access to the BCS and that is the driving force in ECU’s interest in a new conference home. That’s what makes a limited merger of the Big East and C-USA mutually beneficial.

Six teams from C-USA could form one division and the six remaining football-playing schools in the Big East could comprise another. The two division champions could meet in a financially-rewarding league championship game with the winner advancing to the big BCS payday, provided the present system is perpetuated.

The C-USA-based division could include Louisville, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Memphis, South Florida and Southern Miss.

Charlotte, DePaul, Marquette and Saint Louis from C-USA could combine with the Big East’s Georgetown, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova to form an exceptional basketball alignment.

Economics, geography will guide the rest

What happens to the remaining football-playing members and non-football playing programs in C-USA?

Army may want out of its football-only status. The Cadets may be content to resume their football independence, which could allow them to be more competitive than they have been within C-USA.

UAB, Tulane and Houston all face problems in terms of fan support. The hard reality is that college athletics has become a matter of survival of the fittest and that doesn’t preclude the possibility that the programs that bring fewer resources to the table may be forced to find other competitive alignments.

“Our worst fear is that we’ll wind up in the Sun Belt,” said one UAB source.

One assurance that both C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky and Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese have made is that the potential realignment process will be executed in a deliberate and well-thought out manner.

Presumably that means there will be consideration for those schools who stand to be adversely affected in any shuffling.

Along those lines, the Big East needs to approach its own potential expansion very carefully in terms of its current lawsuit against the ACC. Any behavior resembling that which has resulted in its suit against the ACC might weaken the Big East’s legal position.

Texas Christian enters 2003 as C-USA’s premier football program, but geography may relegate the school to another conference. No need for worry, though, because the Horned Frogs would likely have more than one reasonable option when they choose their new league.

In addition to sponsoring a quality product on the gridiron, TCU has another valuable chip to play — its new role as a bowl host. That factor may be influential in the bargaining process because bowl ties are a desirable commodity for any league.

Pirate athletics poised to flourish

East Carolina has a lot to offer in the realignment end-game. At the top of the list is football — the sport that happens to be driving the whole conference-shuffling process — which has been solidly entrenched for decades as the school's flagship program, one around which fans and alumni rally with a fervor unique among the state of North Carolina's I-A programs.

ECU has demonstrated a tangible commitment to improve in basketball and has long fielded a strong baseball team with a loyal following. The Pirates' major facilities have improved greatly in the last 10 years and more big capital expenditures are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, the school's athletic department budget has practically doubled.

Outside the on-the-field framework, the Pirates can point to excellent graduation rates and a record of conformity to NCAA regulations.

Those attributes do not mean that school officials can hold back and not take a proactive role on their own behalf in the conference expansion process. One astute player on the ECU scene has recommended consulting a New York public relations firm to enhance the Pirates’ presentation to Big East presidents.

ECU shouldn’t count on a grassroots campaign to make its case to the ACC either. Chancellor William Muse should call Governor Mike Easley, Senate leader Marc Basnight and university system president Molly Broad and indicate his appreciation of efforts on their part that would enhance the school's athletic pursuits and the financial prospects of many of the region's businesses.

With the potential economic advantages to Eastern North Carolina of ECU’s possible inclusion in the ACC or Big East, the governor and other state leaders should feel obligated to take an active role.

Ask Virginia Tech about the value of such intercession by state leaders.

ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick could extend an invitation to ACC commissioner Johnny Swofford to be his guest at the North Carolina-ECU football game in Greenville on Oct. 11. Swofford could see the significant facility improvements for himself. Favorable impressions could be valuable to the Pirates if the ACC wants to add a 12th team and such targets as Notre Dame and Kentucky don’t work out.

The Pirates have a lot to offer and a well-managed, orchestrated effort is needed to make sure the right people are aware of all of those attributes. ECU is poised to continue its remarkable growth in athletics. It just needs to find the best place to do it.

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02/23/2007 12:40:29 AM

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