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College Sports in the Carolinas


View from the East
Thursday, May 15, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Brave new world for ECU?; Penny purge puzzling


The first domino began to lean in a chain reaction that could get East Carolina into the Big East Conference with the ACC’s Tuesday vote to pursue expansion.

With the ACC coveting Miami, Syracuse and Boston College — to bring its membership to 12 for a league championship football game — the Pirates are candidates to fill the ensuing void in the Big East.

Miami has premier bargaining position heading into the Big East Conference meetings next week in Ponte Vedra, Fla., but if the Hurricanes decide to defect, a possible all or nothing scenario could unfold for the Pirates.

At best, they could wind up in a current bowl championship series conference, a situation desired for its impact on football recruiting and revenue. At worst, Conference USA could be shredded by raids from the Big East and Western Athletic Conference. If ECU were to be snubbed by the Big East, it could face a return to independent status.

Gene Corrigan, former NCAA president and ACC commissioner, told ECU chancellor William Muse last year that the Big East would likely favor Louisville, Cincinnati and Memphis because of their television markets as replacements should it lose Miami, Syracuse and Boston College to the ACC.

There is speculation that the WAC might take Houston, Southern Miss, Texas Christian and Tulane. That would leave four Division I-A football programs in C-USA — ECU, UAB, South Florida and Army — not enough to make for a viable league.

Further complicating the myriad of potential outcomes, UAB has some program-threatening financial issues to address and South Florida is a possible Big East candidate as are Marshall and Central Florida.

The music is just starting and the game is similar to musical chairs.

The objective is to have a league affiliation when the music stops.

Muse has been monitoring the developments and realizes the urgency of getting ECU into the most advantageous competitive alignment possible.

C-USA has been good for the Pirates but Muse isn’t so naive that he doesn’t realize the league landscape could change quickly and drastically.

A Virginia Tech source talked about a scenario that could bring the Hokies, West Virginia and Pittsburgh from a collapsing Big East to C-USA. Another line of thinking has the Panthers going to the Big Ten.

The ACC has set the tone. Money matters most. The desired Big East teams will determine if the dominos begin to fall.

Interestingly enough, the Carolina Panthers are already offering Ericsson Stadium as a site for the ACC championship football game.

Penny, for his thoughts

With just three regular season games remaining in his senior season, right-handed pitcher Davey Penny was dismissed from the ECU baseball team on Monday.

Penny pitched four innings on Friday night against UAB in his first action since taking a line drive to the face at Texas Christian on April 18. Informed during a rain delay of one hour, 40 minutes that he wouldn’t return to the mound that night, Penny didn’t return to the Pirates dugout.

Penny said a lot of things were going through his mind but the bottom line is that he didn’t make a good adjustment to first-year Pirates coach Randy Mazey. Penny had a close relationship with former coach Keith LeClair. Pirate players have generally been through a great deal because of the physical demise of their ALS-stricken former coach.

“I was overwhelmed with frustration and I just wanted to be by myself,” Penny said of his decision not to rejoin the team on Friday night.

He returned to the team on Saturday and pitching coach Tommy Eason encouraged him to apologize to his teammates, which Penny did. Mazey assembled the seniors on Monday and outlined a course of action that they should take to expel Penny from the team.

“He called me up and told me he had let the seniors decide and that he didn’t have anything to do with it, but I know what some of the players have told me,” Penny said.

The situation reminded me of something former ECU football coach Steve Logan once told me.

“If a player separates himself from the team then he is no longer a part of this program,” Logan said. “He’s gone.”

That may have been the thinking behind Penny’s dismissal, but sources indicate that Penny is not a problematic player. I got an e-mail from a former athlete whose credibility I respect that vouched for Penny in glowing terms.

Penny came back from facial fractures from that line drive because he wanted to pitch in his final home series at ECU. Something doesn’t seem quite right about what happened unless there is more to the story than I’m aware of.

Mazey has said he can’t comment beyond a university release that darkly states Penny was dismissed for conduct detrimental to the team.

Penny said Mazey hasn’t invested time in relationships with players to the extent that LeClair did. He said Mazey has become a source of concern for his coaching predecessor, apparently because of factors in Mazey’s personal life that include a troubled marriage and a high-profile girlfriend.

I debated about whether I should write that last sentence but the status of Mazey’s relationships seems to be fairly common knowledge. I’m not telling any secrets and don’t intend to pass any judgments.

I will say that a stable personal life would seem to be an asset for handling a position as pressure-filled and challenging as college coaching. I’m not saying that isn’t the situation with Coach Mazey, but Penny indicated that LeClair has concerns.

“Coach LeClair worries about him,” Penny said. “Coach LeClair loves everybody but he worries about (Coach Mazey). I think he prays about it.”

Mazey is a former LeClair assistant whose hiring at ECU received LeClair’s approval. Some sources indicate that their relationship is no longer as close as it once was. In fairness to Mazey, he entered a situation with some huge shoes to fill and to expect him to be a duplicate of LeClair is not reasonable.

What still links LeClair and Mazey is the goal of ECU reaching the College World Series.

Mazey seems committed to having a successful program and recruiting should be helped when a new stadium is constructed after the 2004 season. Any new coach has to have some leeway to do things his way to a degree.

Although one projection has ECU in the NCAA Tournament in a Wilson regional hosted by N.C. State, the Pirates’ focus at Tulane will have to overcome the somewhat puzzling circumstances that resulted in the loss of their No. 1 starter.

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02/23/2007 12:41:09 AM


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