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SURVEYING THE LANDSCAPE
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Pirate Notebook No. 435
Monday, July 12, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Fans must answer the call

By Denny O'Brien
©2010 Bonesville.net
All Rights Reserved.

It wonít be long before East Carolina unveils its new football digs to a nationally televised audience. When it does, the familiar caravan of Greyhounds will be obstructed from the ESPN2 cameras.

So will Elmhurst School and the adjacent tailgating fields that once provided the backdrop for all field goals attempted on the East end of Bagwell Field.

They will be hidden by the 7,000 new seats that have been installed since the Pirates last played there, a 38-32 victory over Houston in the 2009 Conference USA championship game. It should be earmarked as a day that East Carolina canít afford to repeat if it wants to better position itself for inclusion in a BCS AQ conference.

And weíre obviously not discussing the final score.

In a game heavy on big plays and momentum shifts, the most eye-catching statistic wasnít Houston quarterback Case Keenumís 527 passing yards. It wasnít the four turnovers that East Carolinaís defense produced, the 970 yards for which the two teams combined, or the commanding 151-30 advantage the Pirates held on the ground.

The uncharacteristically low attendance ó just a shade over 33,000 ó in what arguably was the most significant game in stadium history provided the most disappointing footnote not only for that cool, damp afternoon, but for the 2009 season as a whole.

Of the 29 games Skip Holtz coached in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, it was the least attended. To put it in proper perspective, ECU could have leveled the upper deck and had plenty of seats to spare.

Thatís not the type of scene the Pirates need when they host Tulsa for the season opener. But when you consider the logistical competition East Carolina is facing that weekend, you canít deny the possibility that it will be unable to fill all 50,000 seats.

For starters, its Labor Day weekend, which means the final major weekend of beach travel and the absence of many students on campus. There also is that detail about the game being played on a Sunday in early September with a kickoff time that is slated perfectly for peak temperatures in early September.

Not to mention the fact that the opponent isnít from the ACC or Big East.

Though traditionally those havenít been uncommon excuses made for ECU, they have clearly run their course. Especially when you consider the progress the Pirates have made over the last five years and the potential stakes packaged with the 2010 season.

In other words, this fall is yet another opportunity for East Carolina to polish its resumť for conference realignment, should another round soon occur.

While there is no question that East Carolina canít afford to take a significant step back in the standings, it must also make a sizable leap forward at the box office. ECU might be unable to change its position in the Nielsen television market rankings or its geographic location, but it does have control over the results it produces both on the field and in the stands.

The Pirates canít afford to perform poorly in either this year. Not if ECU is intent on angling itself as BCS-ready.

Terry Hollandís decision to expand Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to 50,000 was widely embraced by ECU constituents. It was viewed as necessary for a program producing sellouts with regularity, as well as a strategic move that would make East Carolina more attractive to BCS-AQ suitors.

It also raises the bar significantly for fans.

As a result, the days of applauding crowds of 43,000 have vanished from ECUís equation. Even attendance that reaches 47,000 should be viewed as a disappointment moving forward.

ITEMS OF INTEREST

O'Brien: Fans must answer the call
Myatt: Golden days of summer
Batten: Boone ties deliver primetime defender
Bradsher: New path to NCAA's for volleyball
Batten: QB protection comes in big package
Cherubini: Big talents must fill big shoes on defense
Cherubini:: Air Raid battle plan taking shape
Bailey: Check one off "Bucket List"
Batten: Internet brings Lennon, ECU together
Myatt: Ruff gets breather before preseason camp
Bradsher: Butts boosts ECU's sights in track & field

When Holland became the Piratesí AD, he emphatically proclaimed the fans as the programís greatest asset. I, along with many others, agree with that sentiment.

But if attendance this season doesnít justify the latest expansion to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, that perception could change for some. Thatís why ECUís fans must ensure that empty seats arenít a potential obstacle that could hinder the Pirates' quest for AQ inclusion.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

08/06/2010 01:57 AM

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