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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 150
Friday, October 24, 2003

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Reformulated C-USA has its perks


It may not be the ideal solution for East Carolina, but continued membership in a revised Conference USA might be the most stable.

Given the recent tidal wave that rippled through the Big East and convinced Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech to abandon ship, a snub by the league that has become the ugly duckling of the BCS could be a blessing in disguise.

Constant arm wrestling and an overall state of indecision among Big East CEOs about the league's long-term direction support that notion.

However, any silver lining that may appear is highly contingent on C-USA having better access to the Bowl Championship Series, which isn’t a stretch considering the amount of turbulence the cartel is beginning to encounter from unfavorable press, congressional inquiries and threats of legal action.

Even if the BCS maintains its closed-door policy on C-USA, it isn’t carved in stone that the Big East will maintain its free pass to college football’s Big Dance. In fact, the case can be made that the new-look C-USA, at the very least, will equal a substantially bedraggled Big East in terms of gridiron tradition and potential.

Since its inception, the Big East has been a conference driven by basketball interests. Of the league's grassroots members, only three — Connecticut, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh — field pigskin programs.

By adding Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul, and South Florida, as has been widely speculated, neither the dynamics nor vision will change. If anything, football will receive less emphasis and lose most of the battles within the league's power struggle.

That generally has been the result when well-established basketball leagues desperately search for a football identity. In the past, that formula has been as stable as an active volcano. Both the Big East and C-USA have the blueprints to prove it.

"Having been a member of the Conference USA office as well as working here at East Carolina, and you deal with the issues of football versus basketball, it's a challenge to keep people with divergent interests on the same page," ECU interim athletics director Nick Floyd said recently. "I think that is something that the Big East has looked at during this realignment process."

Apparently, not hard enough.

From the very beginning, C-USA never has been a cohesive unit. The majority of its programs were roundball powers, but the leadership was motivated by football dollars. That often lead to backdoor bickering and constant complaints from C-USA's well-known hoops coaches.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese can expect much of the same, perhaps even in larger doses.

If the cards play as expected, C-USA could over the next few years emerge much stronger than it previously was. A 12-school setup with two six-team divisions will allow the league to become more regionalized, while also cashing in on the millions a league championship game will generate.

The addition of Marshall alone will more than account for C-USA's football losses and provide East Carolina a genuine rivalry game of potential annual-sellout magnitude. Central Florida has been successful in the past and enables the league to retain a much-needed presence in Florida.

Though Rice, Southern Methodist, and Tulsa generally are viewed as bottom feeders, each brings value to the table. Each is located in a major metropolitan area with access to big-time recruits and, combined with Texas Christian and Houston, gives the league a gigantic footprint in the center of Big XII country.

That could go a long way towards boosting non-conference scheduling, securing more lucrative television contracts, and adding additional bowls to the league's already respectable postseason package.

Without question, basketball is the sport in which C-USA will feel its biggest loss. Memphis and Tulsa both are Top 25 programs, but Louisville, Cincinnati, and Marquette recently have spent time in the Top 10.

Baseball, no doubt, will be the big winner, as C-USA annually should rival the Southeastern Conference on the diamond. The overall mission also will be more unified, creating a more stable environment.

Unlike the Big East.

"There is speculation that, in the future, there will be a split between the Big East football and basketball institutions," Floyd said. "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."

Until that time comes, the Big East will remain an unstable conference with no clear consensus on its direction over the long haul. Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and West Virginia will constantly shop their programs to other leagues.

Make no mistake, though. If Tranghese offers East Carolina an all-sports membership, the RSVP should be rubber-stamped with a "yes."

But given the unknowns that would accompany a potential football-only invitation, the Pirates might be better served in C-USA. In that case, the response should be equally simple.

Thanks, but no thanks.

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02/23/2007 01:53:25 AM


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