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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 247
Tuesday, July 12, 2005

By Denny O'Brien

BCS forces occasional recruiting gambles


Now would be the appropriate time for N.C. State coach Chuck Amato to remind us of the unfair recruiting advantage East Carolina holds over the state's other Division I-A schools.

With the recent announcement that former Georgia signee Jamar Bryant would enroll at ECU, the timing couldn't be better. As such, Amato might consider himself justified for unleashing a 'told you so' in reference to past statements about his opposition to future showdowns with the Pirates in football.

Who could blame him?  After the painful display that took place when the Pack and Pirates renewed their rivalry in Charlotte last November, the talent gap between the two couldn't be more clear.

But rest assured that East Carolina wasn't the one boasting the improved horsepower when the two last met. So perhaps Amato wasn't too far off the mark with his comments about certain in-state schools enduring a decided disadvantage along the recruiting trail. 

Because since the unveiling of the Bowl Championship Series in the late 90's, ECU has seen the quality of its recruiting harvests decline considerably. In contrast, North Carolina, N.C. State, and even Wake Forest have celebrated the last several Signing Days with plentiful bounties.

"Recruiting against (the BCS) has been very difficult," Pirates coach Skip Holtz said recently.  "I think that this is a different age than it was 15 years ago when there was no BCS.

"All of a sudden, you kind of have the haves and the have-nots. You have the teams that have the chance to compete for the BCS and those who don't.  And I think that gap has been getting wider between the two of them. So, legitimate obstacle? Yes, an obstacle that East Carolina didn't have to fight 15 years ago in the early 90's when they built this program into what it was."

Back then, recruits made their college selections based primarily on the coaches who pursued them and the schools that were represented during the process.  While conference affiliation may have factored somewhat into those decisions, its presence on the radar wasn't nearly as visible as it is today.

With the BCS, league association has become one of the primary factors. In fact, a recent report in USA Today suggests that a recruit nowadays is more likely to pledge his allegiance to a bottom feeder from a BCS conference than a more traditionally successful program from a league that is not guaranteed yearly access to one of the cartel's bowls.

Such is the current climate in which Holtz and many of his peers are now victims of a stacked deck when it comes to drawing cards from the deck of talent. It has led to a scenario that forces them to sometimes take gambles on gifted players who have been passed over by BCS schools because of academic question marks.

Examples like Bryant, a jack-of-all-trades from the fertile soil of Richmond County who actually may be deemed eligible this fall, are growing by the day. They are growing because programs like ECU have been left with little choice but to occasionally roll the dice on players who some would consider to be academic risks.

Otherwise they are left to fish from a talent pool that has been depleted of solid blue chippers.

Naturally there are those who would argue that academic partial and non-qualifiers are deeply rooted in the culture of East Carolina football. To a certain degree that mindset has some merit, though not nearly to the extent that some insist.

Throughout ECU's gridiron history, coaches have made the occasional exception by extending scholarship offers to players who may not have met the academic requirements of rival programs that also were recruiting them. However, you would be hard-pressed to find a single time when the Pirates' roster was stacked with more than a handful of student-athletes who did not meet the admissions standards at most Division I schools.

It just so happens that most of the players in question had celebrated high school careers that garnered recruiting attention throughout the Southeast. And it also should be noted that the majority of them were model citizens who went the extra mile once they entered school.

Moving forward, the recruiting challenges will become far greater for ECU. Not only must Holtz face the barricade created by the BCS, but also the new standards the NCAA recently introduced with the Academic Progress Rate.

The latter may force him to be even more reluctant to accept non-qualifiers than he already is.

In cases where a recruit has impeccable character and there is confidence in his willingness and ability to handle the academic workload, Athletics Director Terry Holland should give Holtz the green light. Otherwise it might be prudent to apply the brakes, regardless of how talented the player might be.

The margin for error at East Carolina has always been more narrow than at other in-state schools. The increasing challenges it faces on the recruiting trail provides even less wiggle room.

Yep, it sure looks like ECU has a recruiting chokehold over the rest of North Carolina.

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02/23/2007 02:00:11 AM

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