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Adams not holding back in Friday night fight

NCHSAA boss cites broken promises, lack of communication, and raised suspicion as primary reasons


Bonesville staff writer Denny O'Brien recently
conducted an exclusive interview with Charlie
Adams, the North Carolina High School
Athletic Association's executive director. In
addition to O'Brien's accompanying report
about the interview and the circumstances
leading up to and surrounding it, the session
(approximately 40 minutes long) was digitally
recorded and the unedited audio can be
heard by clicking the link below:

This report and the accompanying audio of Bonesville's exclusive interview with NCHSAA Executive Director Charlie Adams were written and digitally recorded by staff writer and columnist Denny O'Brien.


By Denny O'Brien

More than two months have passed since East Carolina announced the decision to move its home game with Cincinnati from Saturday, November 2 to Friday, December 6 in order to accommodate television.

In that time, East Carolina has found itself the subject of extreme scrutiny from North Carolina high schools because the  change puts the Pirates' game in direct conflict with one of the biggest nights of the high school playoffs, which will be in its semifinal rounds that evening.

NCHSAA Executive Director Charlie Adams, who has been vocal in his disapproval of the Friday night game, recently returned from two weeks of regional meetings in which 990 North Carolina high school representatives, including principals, coaches, and athletics directors were present.  Much of the talk centered around the Friday night conflict, according to Adams, who suggested that this is by no means a dead issue. 

"This was the main topic," Adams said.  "We've been doing regional meetings for 30 years and I would say that the East Carolina situation was the main topic and we had quite a bit of discussion on this.  This probably took up a majority of the time."

The high schools stood firm in their stance against colleges participating in Friday night football contests that were in direct conflict with high school games.  In two separate polls, high school representatives were asked to vote on two separate but similar issues:

One, are you against colleges participating in Friday night football games?  Two, are you against East Carolina participating in Friday night football games?

The results were overwhelming, with the high schools voting unanimously against Friday night college football.  On the East Carolina issue, 987 voted against, while three voted in favor of the university playing the December 6 game.

"It's a really volatile issue in North Carolina," Adams said.  "There is a major concern by the superintendents, principals, ADs, and coaches.

"They just feel like we've been protected for 90 years and when the NCAA lifted the protection we were assured by Divisions I, II, and III (in-state schools) that they had no intention of playing on Friday night.  Then East Carolina jumped out and scheduled one last year, which we were able to get (ECU) to move to 11:00 in the morning.  (East Carolina) assured us that it would never play another Friday night game, and we have that in print."

That promise was not taken lightly by the NCHSAA and is one of the primary reasons it hasn't backed down from its firm stance on this issue.  Adams also cited the potential loss of revenue that could occur December 6 and the fact that ECU would be breaking down the door on 90 years of tradition for North Carolina's high schools, perhaps leading the way for other area colleges to entertain the possibility of playing on Friday night.

But it is broken promises, more than anything else, says Adams, that is most unsettling.

"We didn't take it lightly because we worked on this thing for months," Adams said.  "Finally, East Carolina saw where we were coming from and agreed to try to get the game moved and did get it moved to 11:00 that morning.

"Some very strong comments were made in the paper about the support of high school football and the fact that (East Carolina) would not schedule again on Friday night and would not play on Friday night — and it's in print.  We were assured that East Carolina would fall in line with the rest of the schools in the state and not schedule on Friday night."

Adams says he isn't making a mountain out of a molehill over the potential monetary hit the high schools will take December 6.  Football is the primary source of revenue for high school athletics and he is certain that East Carolina's game will have an impact on gate receipts for those high schools still competing in the state playoffs.

Based on his 36 years with the NCHSAA, the last 19 of which have been spent as Executive Director, Adams believes rural, small-town schools will be hurt the most.  Inclement weather, he says, could have an additional impact, as the potential exists that many fans will choose to remain home, watching the East Carolina-Cincinnati telecast in lieu of attending a high school playoff game.

According to Richmond Senior High School coach Ed Emory, a former Pirates player and head coach, his program saw firsthand last Thursday night the impact major college football and television can have on high school sports.

"We probably lost about 150-200 people for our JV game when Florida State and Clemson played," Emory said.  "That was a big game and everybody wanted to see it. Our JVs are undefeated right now and normally draw well.  Even my wife stayed home to watch that because she's a big Clemson fan."

Adams contends North Carolina high schools will suffer an even greater monetary consequence with a college football game being played on their traditional night — and in their backyard.

Lack of communication

Adams learned about the moving of East Carolina's home game with Cincinnati to a Friday night as he was making his way through the Raleigh-Durham airport, having just returned home from an out-of-state trip.  Shortly after touching down, Adams says, he was approached by someone who asked his thoughts on East Carolina's decision to move the game.

According to Adams, considering that it was news to him, he was floored.

"I couldn't believe it," Adams said.  "We were in an absolute state of shock. After what we went through last year, we had been assured that we were not going to have another problem with East Carolina ever again.  We had in writing from every Division I, Division II, Division III (in-state school); the athletic directors, the commissioners, the conferences.  Nobody was going to play on Friday night. 

"It just really rocked us.  It blindsided us.  We were no more prepared for it and just could not believe it after the assurance that we got last year."

East Carolina's failure to inform the NCHSAA prior to the official announcement of the game change was in conflict with an agreement Adams says ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick made with him.

In a letter dated August 12, 2002, Adams expressed his displeasure to Dr. William V. Muse, chancellor of the university, regarding what he considered as the breeching of that agreement. In particular, Adams cited what he said was a commitment made by Hamrick in the aftermath of the previous year's dispute.

"...After all this happened," wrote Adams, "the East Carolina director of athletics told me — and this is just about verbatim — that, 'If something like this ever happens again, let's discuss it before it gets in the paper.'"

That assurance, according to the letter, was almost immediately followed by Hamrick's reiteration that Adams need not worry, "because this particular situation would never happen again."

According to Adams' present-day statements on the matter, if Hamrick had followed through on that promised advance contact, many of the raw edges could have been taken off of what has become a full-blown controversy and perhaps the dispute could have headed off altogether.

"We were not extended that courtesy," Adams said.  "If we had just gotten a professional call saying, 'Just want to let you know we're having to go back on what we told you last year.  We're going to be televising and playing a Friday night football game, and here are the circumstances.'  I think that would have been much easier to digest than to be told the way I was, or to read it in the newspaper, or get a press release.'"

According to earlier reports, East Carolina head coach Steve Logan, who is adamantly against playing on Friday nights, was also not consulted on the schedule change, instead learning of the news when he received the press release.  A clause in his contract states that he is to be consulted on all scheduling issues, yet Logan has remained relatively quiet about the issue since expressing his displeasure several weeks ago.

Adams, on the other hand, has not remained quiet. To this date, Adams says, the ECU athletic department has yet to make contact with the NCHSAA, so Adams directs his communications directly to Hamrick's boss, having sent letters on August 5, 12 and September 30.

"All of our correspondence has been to Chancellor Bill Muse," Adams said.  "I wrote him on August, 5, kind of an institutional letter representing all 350 schools in North Carolina and the damage that it would do to our program.

"Then I wrote him again on August 12 and told him that it would be difficult for us to have any kind of relationship with the athletic director because there was an integrity issue."

A more recent letter informed Muse of the NCHSAA's regional meetings and reaffirmed that the high schools remain unified on this issue.

To date, the NCHSAA has received just one response from East Carolina, a letter from Chancellor Muse dated September 10. 

Hamrick chose not to be interviewed for this story but issued the following statement:

"The facts and the documents have been presented and, as we have indicated from day one, East Carolina University has opposed and continues to oppose Friday night college football."

Conflicting stories

Just who is responsible for the decision to move the East Carolina-Cincinnati game is one of the more perplexing issues in this dilemma.

The answer tends to vary depending upon whom you ask — and when you ask them.

"We were told by ESPN that this is a voluntary matter and that (ESPN) does not tell schools that they have to play on Friday night," Adams said.  "We talked to Conference USA, and they said they would never tell their schools they need to move to Friday.

"We were led to believe that this was strictly and solely a decision by the athletic director at East Carolina."

Adams' story parallels a previous statement issued by John Wildhack, senior vice president of programming for ESPN, who in a letter to the NCHSAA in the Spring 2001 stated that schools "are responsible for determining if Friday night games are appropriate for their programs."

However, the July 24 ECU press release stating the game's date change is somewhat at odds with what ESPN and C-USA told Adams.  In the release, Hamrick stated that ECU was "helping C-USA meet its obligations with ESPN" and that the school had been "asked to reconsider (its) position in this case due to special circumstances which dictate that we have no choice but to play on a Friday night."

At the time, no official statement was made available by either ESPN or C-USA that claimed responsibility for moving the game.  That would come later.

In a brief letter to Hamrick dated September 4, Dave Brown, Director of Programming and Acquisitions for ESPN, stated that C-USA made the final decision to move the game in order to "fulfill the obligations of the ESPN contract for the 2002 football season."

The Daily Reflector reported a similar account the next day, with C-USA Associate Commissioner Dennis Helsel, who is head of football operations, shouldering the blame.

These statements surfaced almost congruently with a September 4 meeting of the ECU Board of Trustees' Athletic Committee which had been called to review the matter — more than a month after the press release announcing the Friday night TV game — a delay that has raised Adams' suspicion as to just who spurred the belated statements from ESPN and C-USA.

"I think everybody is covering for each other now," Adams said.  "Now that this thing has really heated up, I think everybody is trying to protect not only themselves but the other party.

"It's a triangle.  It's East Carolina's athletic director, it's ESPN, it's Conference USA.  We were told one thing by two of them (ESPN, C-USA).  Never have we gotten the first word from the third (Hamrick).  The message has changed now."

In an effort to set the record straight, contacted Helsel to inquire why C-USA was late in delivering its statement that claimed responsibility for the decision after more than a month of turmoil between ECU and the NCHSAA.

"Nobody asked us for a statement," Helsel said after a lengthy pause.  "It's not C-USA policy to offer statements on such issues."

That response by Helsel to's inquiry contradicts the September 5 Daily Reflector story, which states the C-USA associate commissioner himself contacted the paper, stating that it was the league, not East Carolina, that made the final decision.   When asked by Bonesville to clarify, Helsel reaffirmed that the Daily Reflector had first contacted him and he once again noted that it isn't general league protocol to contact the media on such issues.

On Saturday, Daily Reflector sports editor Steve Andrews told that was inaccurate and that it was, in fact, Helsel who contacted the paper with the information.

An additional call was made to Helsel, who rechecked his logbook and acknowledged that he did indeed have a message from someone to call Andrews and was given a home and work number.  However, he was unable to confirm through his logbook who left the message for him to call Andrews.

Helsel did confirm that he had conversations with Hamrick on August 27 and September 1 in which the Friday night football issue was discussed.

Pros and cons

Regardless of who pulled the final trigger in transforming the ECU-Cincinnati contest into a made-for-TV Friday night game, there are clear pros and cons for East Carolina in making the move.

ECU stands to receive additional revenues for inking the deal and guaranteed itself a televised home basketball game with Louisville on ESPN2, as well as a guaranteed televised appearance for football next season.

Those benefits, however, have brought with them some pretty stiff consequences, with Logan's East Carolina football program the most visible victim.

Shortly after the announcement, three high schools — Williamston, Southern Durham, and High Point Central — announced that Logan and his staff were no longer allowed to make recruiting visits to their campuses.  According to Adams, those were the ones reported by the media and, in fact, others had followed their lead.

Since then, Williamston has lifted its ban and Adams says that the NCHSAA had no influence on the high schools' actions.

"We would never take the position of encouraging our schools what not to do or to do," he said.  "What came up very quickly was coaches saying, 'Well, if you're going to play on Friday night, then you're not welcome on our campus. 

"If you play on Friday night, we're not going to encourage our kids to come to your recruiting visit.  If you play on Friday night, we're not going to support your camps.'"

That lack of support, noted Adams, could extend much further than the football field.

"We even had, at a higher level, superintendents and principals talking about whether they would continue to hire East Carolina grads, whether they would use student teachers," Adams said.  "But we have stayed out of that.  Our issue has been that we want Friday night.  That's our sole thing."

Now considered unwelcome guests at several North Carolina high schools, the East Carolina football program is already experiencing the early repercussions of the decision's aftermath.  The very system that feeds the Pirates' money sport has taken strong retribution against it.

The long-range results could be a body blow to ECU football, which is a tradition that, over the past 11 seasons, has gained momentum and respectability with talent mined largely from North Carolina's prep programs. 

"I do think he (Logan) will lose some recruits," Adams said.  "There are some East Carolina grads who are football coaches who feel very strongly about this.

"It's their school and they love it, but they just feel that if you are going to bite the very hand that feeds you — if you are going to slap the very program that supports you — (they) are just not going to encourage their kids to go there.  I think it could be a very devastating blow to Steve (Logan) and the football program."

In response to a question from a caller on his weekly radio call-in show Sunday night, Logan skirted direct mention of the controversy but acknowledged that the Pirates might be compelled to look outside of North Carolina for a larger number of recruits in the future.

Adams noted that Logan's program is in the unfortunate position of being a victim of the inevitable collateral damage resulting from a much larger fight. Though it appears that neither he nor the bulk of the state's high school coaches hold Logan accountable for this incident, the reality is that Logan's program happens to be an unintended target caught in the line of fire, according to Adams.

"I think it's very tragic," Adams said.  "Obviously, he (Logan) had very little to do with it.  I think it's a sad commentary for a guy who has come in there and built a program like he has.

"Some people have taken into consideration and realize that Steve is a victim of what the athletic director has done.  Right or wrong, good or bad, he's going to suffer some as a result of that.  Then, there are others that have been able to separate it out and have said Steve should not be punished for what the athletic director has done and they are going to continue to work with him."

There are other consequences stemming from this decision, with East Carolina potentially facing the prospect of being dropped from the consideration of hosting future high school events.  While Adams says that location limits Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium from being used as a state championship site, he noted the Pirates' venue could have been an attractive location to host Eastern Regional football championships.

Not anymore.  As long as East Carolina insists on trespassing on the high schools' sacred night, says Adams, Dowdy-Ficklen will not be considered as a potential football regional site.

East Carolina was also dangerously close to losing its privilege to host the Eastern Regionals in basketball, according to Adams, who said that several high school officials and NCHSAA board members encouraged Adams to remove that event from Minges Coliseum.  However, loyalty to civic interests in ECU's home community who have helped underwrite the regionals in the past prevailed, says Adams, noting that he didn't want to punish those who have been part of what has become an annual hoops tradition east of I-95.

"I did not do that simply because I thought it would penalize the good people in Greenville — the good people of Pitt County who have worked so hard to make that such an outstanding event," he said.  "But with the animosity over East Carolina playing football on our Friday night, they wanted the Eastern Regionals gone immediately.  They did not want us to participate at a school that was not supporting us."

Burned bridges

There's no question that the roads leading from the state's 350 high schools to East Carolina's campus have become treacherously rocky.  The meager effort ECU has made to smooth things over offers no movement towards a resolution of the issue, according to Adams, who notes that the NCHSAA has received no reassurance that ECU will avoid Friday night play.

The lone correspondence to Adams from ECU, Muse's letter, merely stated that the Board of Trustees had adopted a resolution over the matter, a resolution the NCHSAA didn't find satisfactory.

The resolution did not eliminate the possibility of playing on Friday nights in conflict with high school games.  What it did say, according to a copy of the resolution provided by the ECU Media Relations Office, was that in the event such an issue would again arise, "...a decision will be made only after the Athletics Director consults with the Chancellor, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association and the Athletics Committee of the East Carolina University Board of Trustees."

The September 4 resolution also stated that East Carolina has always had a good relationship with North Carolina high schools, and looks "forward to not only to maintaining but enhancing this relationship."

For the time being, though, it is a relationship that seems to be virtually severed.  And it's one, in light of Adams' unyielding position, that could require visible movements by ECU towards addressing the dispute and a considerable amount of time to repair.

"East Carolina has damaged (itself)," he said.  "I don't think there is any question about that.

"There were some bridges that not only were broken, there were some bridges that washed away.  I don't think East Carolina fully realizes how the school people of North Carolina feel about this issue.

"I think that they are probably thinking, 'Well, we scheduled a football game, we're going to play, and this thing will die down.'  It is not going to die down. It is not going to go away. Our stance has not changed, nor will it change."

That perspective is backed strongly by an overwhelming majority of the high schools, which voiced their displeasure at the NCHSAA's regional meetings.  The potential long-term consequences for ECU football have already been brought sharply into focus by the decision by some high schools to implement an all-out recruiting ban of Logan and his staff.

Adams says he has never seen the high schools more unified on one issue, which has at its epicenter a sense of distrust that he attributes to broken promises, a lack of communication, and conflicting stories that have raised his suspicion.

"The feeling right now is with the school people throughout the state, they don't see how we can ever have a relationship with East Carolina with the athletic director that we have to work with," Adams said.  "We found out we can't work with him."

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02/23/2007 01:46:56 AM

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