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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 125
Wednesday, June 4, 2003

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

BCS or bust for East Carolina


• Big East would provide big boost for Pirates
Football aristocracy blasted by hoops coach
Tulane president plots assault on BCS
• FSU's attention about to be diverted?
• Realignment takes back seat for Thompson
• ACC expansion train slows; ECU on radar
• Marriage counseling: That's the ticket!
• Tulane goes on offensive on dual fronts
• Banowsky defines C-USA's stance
C-USA chiefs wrap up eventful summit
BCS no barrier to Omaha for Bears
Swofford: ACC playing by the rules
Despite obstacles, UMass thinking big
Wellman: A few 12-team leagues the key
• Cards' Pitino out on limb-o about C-USA

• BCS or bust for East Carolina
• Irish hover over ACC, Miami, Big East
• SEC example proves money no cure-all
• Opposition to ACC scheme gaining steam
• ACC foray for 'crown jewel' advances
• Big East's jilted 5 gang up for future
• Herrion keeps eye on Miami's next move

• 'Sopranos' more benign than ACC syndicate
• Meetings leave big questions hanging
Tranghese sounds like "beaten man"
• Moral compass spins out of control
• Big East boss lashes out
ECU well-situated for upheavals
The Empire Strikes Back?
• Notre Dame ponders Big East role
TV markets based on bogus science
• Brave new world for ECU?
• Muse can't take wait-and-see approach
• Execs move to spawn ACC juggernaut
• Muse eyes saga from 'crow's nest'
• Is ECU prepared to navigate storm?
• Time for C-USA to revisit expansion issue

Now that the Atlantic Coast Conference outlaws have completed their Tour de Big East — and Big East boss Mike Tranghese is fresh out of bullets — it is just a matter of time before the implosion of college athletics commences.

That Miami, Boston College, and Syracuse will saddle up with a new gang is imminent. What happens to the remnants of the Big East — or the nation's conference landscape, for that matter — isn't abundantly clear, though the scenarios are aplenty.

"The fact is, something is going to happen," East Carolina coach John Thompson said. "There is going to be another shakeup similar to what happened with the Big XII and the Southwest Conference.

"Everybody is trying to position themselves for whatever reason. We will be a player in that situation. How do we fit in all of that? We've got to be ready to do the best that we can. All that we can do as a staff is to keep winning."

Unfortunately, conference expansion isn't dictated by wins and losses, strong tradition, or passionate fan bases. If that were the case, Temple, Rutgers, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Central Florida wouldn't be mentioned ahead of East Carolina in many scenarios that call for a restructured Big East.

But in the reality game of conference expansion, where under-the-table deals likely are formed between major television networks and the BCS conferences, TV market size — as arbitrarily defined in sometimes grossly inaccurate fashion by Nielsen Media Research — carries far more weight than it should.

Though the Greenville market is skewed by the fact that several sizeable Eastern North Carolina communities with mammoth ECU constituencies have been gerrymandered into Raleigh's market domain, the TV market factor is about the only significant drawback to which so-called experts point when downplaying the Pirates' viability for membership in the next iteration of the Big East.

If the Big East is able to retain its five remaining members — keeping in mind that the Pittsburgh to the Big Ten theory hasn't gone away — and decides to add only three more, prepare to enter panic mode. That scenario could leave ECU in a legion of eight C-USA holdovers, and those holdovers — aside from ECU itself, Southern Miss and Texas Christian — would have little gridiron appeal.

That, of course, assumes neither Southern Miss nor TCU are part of an opportunistic round-up by a mid-major league like the WAC.

Any way you slice it, in that type of climate, ECU's almost-forgotten chip-on-the-shoulder mentality would have to be reborn with a vengeance and survival mode would best describe the status of Pirate football until the courts, the congress or the NCAA restore sanity to the structure of intercollegiate athletics.

Since the inception of the BCS, East Carolina has seen its foothold as the state's top football school steadily slip. From 1994-2000, the Pirates prided themselves on being the most consistent program in North Carolina, but the heavy influx of BCS Benjamins has somewhat inverted the pecking order.

N.C. State suddenly has become a Top 25 program. Wake Forest, once the ACC doormat, no longer is a gimmee. North Carolina, despite a disastrous 3-9 campaign in 2002, inked one of the nation's top recruiting classes in February.

If East Carolina isn't somehow aligned with traditional rivals Virginia Tech and West Virginia in a conference configuration with direct BCS access, the gap could easily widen.

When the cards are reshuffled and dealt, the potential side effects of a negative outcome could trickle down to the hardwood — where East Carolina has made strides of late — and to non-revenue sports.

Football is the wage-earner that feeds most athletic departments. Without the positive bottom line it generates, many of ECU's programs could sputter.

The need for a direct BCS tie — whatever scenario that may be — should not be underestimated.

"I love Conference USA," Thompson said. "Maybe we can strengthen Conference USA. I would think that we have a little conference loyalty. At the same time, we've got to look out for our best interest, whatever that is."

The only suitable scenario for East Carolina is one that includes a fair slice of BCS pie.

Anything else almost assuredly would place ECU football, and potentially its other sports programs, in a time warp — heading in the wrong direction.

One is enough

Paul Troth's name currently is listed atop the depth chart at quarterback, but Pirates coaches haven't guaranteed him a starting spot under center.

Heading into summer conditioning, Thompson said Troth and Desmond Robinson are neck-and-neck, and added that he isn't concerned that neither has emerged as the clear-cut starter.

"It doesn't make me feel uncomfortable," Thompson said. "I believe we can win with Desmond and/or Paul — or Paul and/or Desmond.

"Both of those guys had good springs. (Offensive coordinator) Rick (Stockstill) did a great job with those guys. They protected the football better and they got us in the end zone. They separated themselves from the pack; they didn't separate themselves from each other."

Troth held the upper hand in the preliminary scrimmages this spring, completing 31-of-55 (56.4%) passes for 377 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception. Robinson completed just 37 percent of his passes for 174 yards, but outshined the incumbent starter in the Spring Game with a 12-for-17, 182-yard effort.

If neither can put some distance between himself and the other in August camp, Thompson hinted that he could play both — but he'd much prefer a one-man show.

"I believe we need a one-head quarterback," Thompson said. "I'm not a two-quarterback guy. But in this situation, that's where we are right now.

"I'm not opposed to playing both guys. Knowing Desmond, knowing Paul, I think it will help both guys. Cincinnati doesn't know who to prepare for — which is good for our team. What's best for our team right now is we've got two guys still competing."

News, notes, thoughts...

  • Troth has plenty to keep him busy over the summer. Pirates coaches want the junior quarterback to shed ten pounds to get down to a slim-and-trim 220, which they feel is his optimal playing weight. Troth already has improved his foot speed, which was evident in the spring game when he scampered 14 yards on a naked bootleg. Dropping an extra ten would greatly enhance his chances of retaining the starting job.

  • The Memphis Commercial Appeal recently published a story in which the appeal of several programs that potentially could be Big East targets was examined. Attendance figures were among the factors measured. East Carolina, which has a long history of putting large numbers of passionate fans in the seats at home, away and at bowl games, finished a distant second to Louisville last season. Memphis, Cincinnati, Marshall and South Florida all were within 3,000 per game of ECU's official attendance numbers in 2002, and it was the first time in years the Pirates fell below the magical 30,000 mark. Questions have been raised about what appeared to be ECU's suddenly ultra-pessimistic method for tallying attendance at some home football games last year. Hopefully, low-balling attendance figures while some programs against whom ECU is currently being measured were wildly exaggerating that vital statistic won't come back to haunt the Pirates cause when the realignment dominoes fall.

  • College football preseason magazines are beginning to hit newsstands. Athlon is one of the first publications out and had a fairly interesting breakdown of C-USA. East Carolina is predicted to finish 9th, just ahead of Houston and Army. That the Pirates return one of the more experienced teams in the league and figure to improve on last year's 4-4 conference finish makes the prediction a bit puzzling.

  • Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is a facility of firsts for Thompson. In 1990, he coached his first game as a defensive coordinator in Greenville with Louisiana Tech.

  • Former ECU baseball assistant Kevin McMullan has landed in the Atlanta Braves organization. McMullan, who was endorsed for the East Carolina job by former coach Keith LeClair, currently is in Orlando working with some of the Braves' younger prospects. He is slated to join the staff of the Braves' Rookie League team in Danville, VA, later this summer.

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02/23/2007 01:52:49 AM


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