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Don't miss Al Myatt's profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004 Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Monday, November 8, 2004

By Al Myatt

Cougars' lot in life offers stark lesson

Game Center Wrap-up

Houston 34, ECU 24:
Complete coverage...

Post-game Interviews:
Select audio clips...


Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• STEVE BALLARD: New Leader Takes Charge

• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door

• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate




Houston had a home football game on Saturday — Homecoming no less — and topped East Carolina 34-24 at John O'Quinn Field at Robertson Stadium.

There were coupons available for admission at $5 each and the Cougars drew a small but enthusiastic crowd of 13,069.

It was a postcard day near NASA command with sunny skies and a kickoff temperature of 75 degrees, but at least four million people in the nation's fourth largest city found something else to do.

ECU athletic director Terry Holland came to the Pirate sideline with about eight minutes left in the Conference USA contest and Houston leading 34-17.

Holland had no doubt taken note of his surroundings — rows upon rows of empty seats. It was a setting the likes of which ECU must avoid during his administration.

Houston used to play its home games at an engineering marvel called the Astrodome. And program support wasn't always as it is now. As far back as 1966, the Cougars averaged 41,075 in home game attendance.

Houston's struggles at the gate and the general demise of the program that produced a Heisman Trophy winner (quarterback Andre Ware) as recently as 1989 are testimony to what can happen when the boat is missed in terms of the most desirable conference affiliation.

It's a situation that has affected the Cougars across the board. In 1983, the basketball team featuring Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon was known as Phi Slamma Jamma and was very much among the national elite.

Now Houston has announced it has downsized seating in its home hoops arena, Hofheinz Pavillion. The reason, however spun by the Cougars, is a struggling program and less demand for tickets.

When they talk about the good old days at Houston, they have plenty to talk about.

Houston was a member of a vital league configuration from 1976 to 1995 known as the Southwest Conference. The Cougars won four football championships in the now-defunct league.

But when the cream of the old Southwest merged into what is now the Big 12, the Cougars were left out. Conference USA came calling and Houston signed up. But for fans of football in the Lone Star state, matching up with Tulane or Tulsa doesn't have the same sort of attraction as going head to head with Texas.

Recruits, as former ECU coach Steve Logan used to say, also have learned the difference between conferences such as the Big 12 with its assured Bowl Championship Series berth and "non-BCS" leagues such as C-USA.

Media attention also has also taken a backwards step. The Houston Chronicle ran its account of the hometown program's Saturday win on page six of the Sunday paper — inside the back fold of its second section, which is devoted to college football.

As recently as 1999, when ECU played in the inaugural Mobile Bowl, papers from Charlotte, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Norfolk, Raleigh and Winston-Salem regularly staffed Pirate games.

ECU's loss on Saturday ensured that the Pirates will not be bowl eligible for the third straight year.

On Saturday, there were two media outlets on hand to cover ECU — and the hometown Greenville Reflector. There was plenty of elbow room in the ECU section of the Robertson Stadium press box.

Even The Pirate Chest, the publication devoted to ECU athletics and circulated among Pirate Club members, has stopped staffing ECU road games.

If you need a road map to see the parallel universe that ECU is living in, it's time to stop focusing on Luke Fisher dive through the tackle of N.C. State's Sebastian Savage at the Peach Bowl to finish an 11-1 season in 1991 — or another miraculous Pirate comeback to beat Miami in 1999.

Those days are gone, like Houston's membership in the Southwest Conference. Not long ago, the Big East took a look at a reeling Pirate program and said, "No, thanks."

Holland knows the Big East may look again at the athletic program of which he has taken charge. He also knows the Pirates have just three gridiron wins in their last 22 games.

Re-establishing football success will enhance ECU's chances for a more desirable conference affiliation. Holland is no doubt evaluating the situation in terms of who the best coach would be to accomplish that mission.

There already has been significant slippage in the ECU program. Holland and new ECU chancellor Steve Ballard simply can't afford to make a mistake. The Pirates certainly can't afford a Homecoming down the road with 13,069 fans.

Houston is proof of what can happen.


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02/23/2007 12:46:49 AM

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