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Pirate Notebook No. 487
Monday, March 19, 2012

Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien

Biding time is ECU's conference answer

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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There is a bright side to East Carolinaís current conference plight. If nothing else, the Pirates would emerge as the top football power in the yet-to-be-named alliance between Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference.

Given ECUís facilities, fans, resources, and tradition, there honestly isnít a school among the expansion leftovers that has an edge over the Pirates. Not Southern Miss. Not UNLV. Certainly not Marshall.

Thatís not bad for a worst-case scenario.

And to be clear, the C-USA-MWC alliance should be the worst-case scenario for East Carolina. Independence or a newly formed league with current members of the Southern Conference and the Colonial Athletic Association are clearly not an option.

Those perceived last straws should not be a remote consideration for moving forward. Either would essentially neuter athletics financially as the direct result of a significant reversal in football prestige.

Hopefully neither is being pondered by the East Carolina administration.

Independent status simply isnít an option for multiple reasons. The challenge of scheduling 12 games would be too difficult to overcome without playing multiple guarantee games against heavyweights. ECU would potentially have to reduce its home schedule to five games unless multiple FCS opponents were involved.

There also would be the lack of bowl opportunities and a lucrative television contract. The temptation to use Brigham Young as an argument to the contrary simply doesnít wash given the Cougarsí overall national relevance in comparison to ECU.

Many of the same issues that would face the Pirates as an independent also would apply to a regionally-based conference that included Appalachian, Charlotte, Old Dominion, and the like. While home attendance wouldnít suffer, it would be difficult to secure adequate enough bowl and television opportunities to compensate for the reduction in travel.

If anything, the East Carolina brass, at least in the short term, should explore a football-only possibility in the alliance and a more regional home for its other sports. Even if that meant a step back to the Big South, that could prove beneficial competitively and financially for the Piratesí minor sports.

But that would be considered a short term solution.

Given the constant flux of major college athletics, the only certainty anymore is change. The Big Eastís overall lack of vision has most of its holdovers in constant search of a different conference home.

Itís a good bet that some combination of Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, and Rutgers will flee within the next couple of years. And at some point, you have to figure the Big East will eventually reach out to a school that will elevate its football profile.

In the meantime, East Carolina needs to embrace its near-term fate and do a better job of capitalizing on the things that are within its control. That means winning more games, especially against the type of programs it should regularly beat.

Boise State built itself by being the biggest bully in a small neighborhood. East Carolinaís best chance at elevating its overall profile is following the Broncosí model.

Membership in the alliance, coupled with a lighter non-conference load, would offer the Pirates that opportunity.

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03/19/2012 01:50 AM

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