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Pirate Notebook No. 347
Monday, June 16, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

Retirement fuels expansion buzz

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

The annual derby of conference meetings typically means one thing. Time to talk change.

Rules changes, scheduling, television contracts, and postseason bowls almost always top the official agenda. What doesn’t is formal discussion of expansion and the future dynamics of Division I-A football.

At least that’s what conference officials lead us to believe.

But the discussion certainly exists.

It exists on golf courses while coaches craft their short games and downplay their teams’ chances of winning the conference title. It exists in golf carts where athletics directors unveil their visions for prosperity, ideas that they market as one-size-fits-all.

You can bet it also exists at the hotel bar, where Jack Daniels and George Dickel join the conversation. If John Doe AD won’t spill the beans, you can bet Black Jack will.

It’s also this time of year when random columnists and bloggers pontificate the possibility of another major conference upheaval. They often cite sources – all anonymous, of course – and claim they’ve verified their credentials as true insiders of a school’s athletics program.

Aren’t they all?

Each time the media runs the two-minute drill with its expansion fodder it sparks an avalanche of message board musings. The latest frenzy has the East Carolina faithful asking ‘What Would Terry Do?’ to join the Big East.

Perhaps the more appropriate question might be ‘What Wouldn’t He Do?’

According to Hartford Courant columnist Desmond Conner, not much.

To paraphrase ECU’s newest ally, Holland would forfeit his slice of the Bowl Championship Series pie in years that the Pirates don’t make it to the BCS dance. He’d also excuse the Pirates from the Big East’s television deal, leaving more time slots available to other league members.

The list goes on. And in case you’re questioning the validity of Mr. Conner’s commentary, perhaps you should consider this: Holland would change ECU’s colors to Pink and Powder Blue and its nickname to the Pansies if it was a stipulation for Big East membership. He’d also cancel the contract with Nike and outfit the Pirates in those hideous Crocs.

If that doesn’t work, rest assured there’s a Plan B and C. His ideas for expanding Conference USA to a 16-team format that emphasizes divisional play and reduces travel expenses have been well documented.

Holland’s preparation should provide comfort to Pirate partisans. Because ECU’s last AD – Mike Hamrick – lacked the vision to both foresee the changes on the horizon and to draft an aggressive proposal designed to capture the attention of Big East presidents.

After all, the CEO's of the Big East schools are the ones who will decide if and when the league should pull the trigger on expanding membership, and by how many. But rest assured they’ll depend heavily on the direction from the league commissioner, who’s responsible for seeking ways to improve the conference profile and increase revenue streams.

It’s a good thing Mike Tranghese won’t be calling the shots. He has adamantly opposed future expansion in the interest of not disrupting the dynamics of his 16-team hoops mega-conference.

Where other conference commissioners – John Swofford and Britton Banowsky – restructured their leagues with a football flavor, Tranghese opted for a basketball buffet. And his recently announced retirement couldn’t have come at a better time for East Carolina.

Big East football coaches are beginning to embrace the expansion idea in the interest of competitive equity. The current league logistics have generated uneven scheduling in which some members play more conference games on the road than at home.

Even so, the emphatic pleas of a few concerned coaches won’t provide enough spark to ignite serious consideration for adding new members. Any further movement will be driven solely by economics.

Will the Big East’s next commissioner view expansion as an opportunity for financial prosperity, or an idea that will ultimately lower the bottom line for each member institution? Will he or she view it as an avenue to secure a league championship game, more bowl opportunities, and command more money from television executives?

Could expansion add untapped recruiting markets while not compromising the league’s geographic footprint? And if expansion is pursued, how many additions would maximize the Big East’s potential both financially and competitively?

Those are some of the most pressing questions facing the heir to the Big East throne. The ruling on each could determine the ceiling on East Carolina’s athletics future.

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

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06/16/2008 12:21:45 AM

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