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College Sports in the Realm of Bonesville

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

By Danny Whitford

Has the "lunatic fringe" found a part-time asylum?

©2002 will be one year old on August 21. In retrospect, it is clear we were selling our target audience short by not launching the site years ago.

As a long-dormant journalist (turned capitalist pig), a Down East native, a devotee of college sports and a one-time wide-eyed resident of 129 Aycock Dorm and other humble abodes on College Hill, a question had bothered me for quite some time: Why were anonymous chat forums or message boards at the heart of almost all of the higher-profile independent web sites devoted to East Carolina sports?

It was a paradox to be sure, one which warped the prism through which Pirate coaches and administrators perceived the web as a medium. After all, when cyber-cowboys with CB-style handles can lob rumors and take pot shots from behind an electronic veil, it’s understandable why ECU athletic director Mike Hamrick is paranoid about the web and why blunt-spoken football coach Steve Logan labels those who give credence to such loosely-regulated gossip bazaars as the “lunatic fringe.”

Then, the answer dawned on me. The vast majority of these 21st-century byte-slingers have no desire whatsoever to undermine East Carolina or sew ill will about individuals involved in the athletics program. On the contrary, the posters and readers of the forums — with a few exceptions — are much like me. They have nothing more risqué on their online agendas other than satisfying a gnawing hunger for information and perspective about a topic which is dear to their hearts — the East Carolina Pirates.

They want to talk about it with their cyber-pals the same way they would with their buddies in the tailgate fields or at the corner tavern. They want to know what’s going on inside the program and what’s in store in the future. They want to dispense their sincere, albeit off-the-cuff, solutions to perceived problems. And, they want to vent their criticisms of imperfect performances or questionable decisions the same way the Bronx’s most sharp-edged Yankees fans are compelled to fling acid-tipped verbal darts in the general direction of George Steinbrenner and Joe Torre.

In effect, many ECU fans who are comfortable with mice and computer keyboards comprised a collective pent-up demand for the 'skinny' that was not being met by the conventional media. True to the American way, they improvised — and developed their own forums for exchanging 'scoops' and 'slants'.

Once I was satisfied I had nailed down the answer to my original question, it was obvious what the next logical step should be. It made complete sense, I thought, that a web site could indeed make its way without a message board at its core — if it could satisfy, through other means, a goodly portion of the fans’ insatiable daily craving for Pirate sports news, features, analysis and opinions.

So, voila! A diverse crew of intrepid writers with keen knowledge of ECU sports and reasonable access to various facets and personalities of the athletics program was assembled.

And a digital baby was born. was launched with minimal fanfare with the objective of covering an eclectic mix of ECU, Carolinas and Conference USA sports like no other source. Promotional efforts were limited and selective as the online daily’s content formula and navigation scheme were tweaked. The rate of increase in readership progressed from incremental in the beginning... to steady as word began to get around… to remarkable as the quantity and quality of the site’s content evolved.

As a commercial enterprise, was a risky venture from the get-go. In fact, the management committee of its computer-centric and Internet-savvy parent company, Carolina Data Systems, asked pressing questions before funding the venture: Could the site attract traffic in significant numbers and on a consistent, long-term basis? If the answer to that first query was yes, they wanted to know, could a business model be conceived and implemented in an era of busts that would ultimately return a profit?

The answers are coming into view on the horizon in the East and our forthcoming magazine is a part of the equation. Based on the online pre-orders for The Magazine, there is a substantial cadre of the East Carolina faithful out there — many of whom are still probably irresistibly, understandably, drawn to the message boards — who have grown to appreciate’s unique, wide-ranging, inside perspective on Pirate sports.

They have voted for Bonesville with their feet by visiting this site for their daily news fix. Now, they are voting with their wallets by plunking down their greenbacks for more probing content that is better suited for hard copy.

We view this Internet endeavor and its magazine spin-off as a joint venture of sorts, between Bonesville and the most fervent core of East Carolina's partisans. After all, both parties closely identify with the same objectives when it comes to Pirate athletics.

Bottom line: The Website is here for another year and we have every intention to make it more compelling than ever. And don’t be surprised if The Magazine shows up again, too.

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02/23/2007 01:37:19 AM

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