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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 154
Friday, November 7, 2003

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Time to reshuffle, deal again


Chances are, Saturday is the last we'll see of South Florida. If the Conference USA office has any sympathy, it mercifully will leave the Bulls off East Carolina's schedule next season.

Maybe the next time the Pirates and Bulls meet it can be on a field thousands of miles from Greenville in an obscure postseason bowl. Perhaps then the wounds from the snub of 2003 will have healed.

It's not that USF has a juggernaut football program that strikes immediate fear into any opponent it faces. The fact is, ECU notched more wins over Top 25 foes last season — one, a 31-28 victory over No. 22 Texas Christian — than South Florida has in its entire history.

East Carolina has spent the last seven decades trying to impress a handsome, well-to-do suitor, only to be left standing at the alter. This time South Florida took the Pirates' rightful place in an episode that has become the latest chapter in an anthology of missed opportunities.

The last thing ECU needs is a constant reminder.

The temptation now is to be a sour grape glutton and point fingers at those who steered the ship. Just how a wet-behind-the-ears school that lacks nostalgia and gridiron tradition could steal a reservation the football-crazy Pirate Nation made almost a decade ago seems unfair.

We can resurface USF's weaknesses — shallow fan base, poor facilities, questionable academics. Sure, Jim Leavitt has built a fine little football program in a few short years, but other than a large television market — Do folks in Tampa actually care about USF? — and footprint in the Sunshine State, what do the Bulls bring to the table?

Or, we can place blame on ECU's recently departed leaders. Looking back, it is obvious Mike Hamrick and Bill Muse were busy scrambling to salvage their professional careers and couldn't give their undivided attention to the realignment derby.

At this point, though, digging up the skeletons and piecing together what went wrong at the realignment poker table would do no good. That can wait until the end of this beleaguered season.

In the meantime, all factions of the faithful must pull together, because East Carolina has reached the most critical point in its athletics history and must brush itself off and focus intensively on the horizon.

"There is speculation that, in the future, there will be a split between the Big East football and basketball institutions," ECU interim athletics director Nick Floyd said recently. "I think there are some very complex issues that they are having to deal with that make any type of split of that nature problematic at this point in time. But I think there is a possibility that that would happen in the near future."

And East Carolina had better be ready.

Sooner or later, the Big East will implode. Historically, leagues in which the membership does not share a unified vision rarely succeed. The Big East and C-USA have proven that theory.

An eventual split by the Big East and the expansion to 12 football-focused schools is the only way it will be considered a legitimate pigskin power. When that door cracks, the Pirates need to make an aggressive, concerted effort to bust it down.

That process must begin now.

Floyd already has moved ECU a step in the right direction with vastly improved marketing efforts. That the Pirates are near the top in C-USA attendance with a 1-8 record is a testament to the sense of urgency with which he is operating.

Extending the media market also is paramount to improving East Carolina's image. While little can be done other than vigorous complaining about the market's arbitrarily understated Nielson boundaries, ECU can aggressively pursue new markets for its radio and television broadcasts.

Scoring Raleigh and the Virginia Beach areas for football telecasts would do wonders for the Pirates' perception.

Scheduling has to be a concern, despite the attractive list of opponents the Pirates have faced in recent years. It would be wise to begin building new relationships with schools in strategic locations, which potentially could play in ECU's favor the next time a realignment scenario presents itself.

A few SEC and Big East schools with which the Pirates have little history is the most logical direction.

As a 12-member search committee begins its journey to find a new AD, it must proceed with all of this in mind. The group also should operate under the notion that, with the evolving face of college athletics, this is the most important hire in Pirates sports history.

Given the amount of turmoil that has rippled through campus over the past year, the last thing East Carolina needs is another blunder.

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02/23/2007 01:53:12 AM


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