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Pirate Notebook No. 475
Monday, October 3, 2011

Denny O'Brien

Opportunity finally there for ECU?

Harris Poll

For the sixth year in a row, columnist Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. O'Brien was nominated to the panel by Conference USA. His weekly ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the rest of the season.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. The initial 2011 BCS Standings will be released on Oct. 16. O'Brien's ballot below was filed in conjunction with a trial run by Harris Interactive in preparation for its first poll of 2011 to be released on Oct. 9.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

(Trial ballot, 10.02.11)
(Conference USA teams and ECU opponents highlighted in yellow.)

  1. Louisiana State
  2. Alabama
  3. Wisconsin
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Clemson
  6. Oklahoma State
  7. Boise State
  8. Stanford
  9. Oregon
10. Michigan
11. Texas
12. Georgia Tech
13. Arkansas
14. Nebraska
15. Florida
16. West Virginia
17. Virginia Tech
18. South Carolina

19. Kansas State
20. Illinois
21. Baylor
22. Arizona State
23. Houston
24. Florida State
25. Texas A&M

This Week's Associated Press & Coaches Polls


C-USA Standings

East Division







West Division







C-USA Scores & Schedule



Opportunity finally there for ECU?
AP & Coaches Polls
Game Center: North Carolina 35, ECU 20
Box Score / Statistics
Audio: Ruff Post-game
Game Day Gallery
Myatt: ECU making wrong play
O'Brien: Schedule taking its toll
C-USA Scoreboard
Monroe: Kevin's Keys to the Game
Pep talk optional this week
Strandberg tames pain to master her game

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Maybe the weekend wasn’t a complete wash for East Carolina.

According to a statement from the Big East, school presidents voted unanimously Sunday to allow commissioner John Marinatto to pursue discussions with potential candidates to add to the league’s football membership.

Though specific universities were not mentioned by the league, you have to believe East Carolina should be a part of the conversation. How could it not?

At this stage, the Big East is in no shape to completely ignore any school that has aggressively made a solid case for membership. Especially when that school has demonstrated the specific ways in which it could add value to a conference suddenly in desperate need of it.

With the losses of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the Big East didn’t exactly lose a pair of football juggernauts, but it did lose programs with reasonably competitive histories and decent-sized markets. ECU easily delivers that with two Conference USA championships in the last three years, five consecutive bowl appearances, and a geographical market that can provide value both on television and in recruiting.

It should be abundantly clear that the Pirates are the only candidate that also can deliver a fan base that consistently packs a 50,000-seat facility. If invited, ECU would immediately become one of the top three box office draws in the Big East.

Air Force, Central Florida, Navy, and Temple couldn’t claim that.

They also couldn’t claim the similar football-first mentality that has been sorely missing from the Big East’s profile since Virginia Tech bolted for the ACC. Outside of West Virginia, the league lacks a school where football receives top billing.

ECU could change that.

What isn’t clear is if the Pirates, along with a combination of other programs, can bring the stability to keep the Big East from crumbling in the future. If the Pirates ultimately receive an invitation from the Big East, that’s a question that Chancellor Steven Ballard and Athletics Director Terry Holland have to consider.

You also can’t overlook the possibility that the Big East could ultimately lose its BCS Automatic Qualifier status, or that discussions of a Conference USA-Mountain West merger could lead to better BCS access.

Even so, if the Pirates receive an invitation from the Big East, they are in no position to decline it. That is unless the details of Conference USA-MWC merger are complete before an invitation is delivered, and AQ status is included in that merger.

At that point, staying put could be an option worthy of serious consideration.

Unstable bunch

If ECU is not invited to the Big East, could that be a blessing in disguise? That’s one way of viewing the Pirates’ scenario should their application for membership get denied.

Here’s why: Though the Big East currently has AQ status, most of its football-playing members would prefer to be elsewhere, and they’ve made that no secret in recent weeks.

One call from Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford and Connecticut and Rutgers will submit their exit notice. Likewise for West Virginia, which would bolt for any other AQ league that would have it, and for Texas Christian, which has Chuck Neinas on speed dial.

Though they have pledged loyalty to the Big East, each would prefer a more stable home.

For years, the Big East has suffered from poor leadership that has catered primarily to the interests of the non-football playing Catholic schools. Though Division I athletics is financially driven by football, the Big East has maintained a hoops-first approach.

Operating in such a manner could ultimately lead to the demise of Big East football. But at this stage, membership is worth the gamble if ECU’s name is called.

Merger talks continue

C-USA officials who attended East Carolina’s game against North Carolina confirmed that discussions with the Mountain West about a potential merger continue. There is no time table in place for any resolution.

The idea — and it is an intriguing one — is for the two leagues to converge, potentially operating as separate leagues in part of a 20 or 24-team uber conference, playing a championship game to decide a BCS berth. The catch is gaining AQ status.

One thought is that the current C-USA and MWC membership could have enough firepower to wrestle the AQ bid away from the Big East. And that’s certainly a possibility.

Another intriguing thought is the revenue potential for future television agreements that would be the result of a merger. In addition to its traditional television partners, the MWC currently has its own national network, and you have to believe a merger would lead to its expansion.

If this is the fallback option for East Carolina, it could be a good one.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

10/04/2011 01:33 AM

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