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Pirate Notebook No. 421
Monday, March 1, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Holland facing biggest task yet

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

East Carolinaís Board of Trustees picked a good time to extend the contract of athletics director Terry Holland.

With speculation growing that major shifting among the BCS automatic qualifier conferences soon will occur, the importance of Hollandís presence on campus canít be overstated. More than anyone since iconic former chancellor Leo Jenkins, he understands the big picture for ECU athletics.

In a state where basketball was king, Jenkins saw football as the athletics platform on which East Carolina could carve its niche. He was right. With the success of in-state ACC schools in hoops, it made more sense to invest in the sport on which they were providing less emphasis.

Jenkinsí vision continues to pay huge dividends today despite the external obstacles the Pirates repeatedly face.

Thatís largely because Hollandís focus hasnít been too far removed from Jenkinsí. He has kept ECUís attention on advancing football, placing a special priority on improving the Piratesí conference and regional standing.

Even to the casual observer, it should be fairly obvious that Holland has been anticipating more conference realignment since he took over as the ECU AD. Essentially every move he has made ó specifically in football ó has been with the notion of positioning the Piratesí for advancement into a BCS automatic qualifier conference.

It started with the firing of John Thompson and the subsequent hiring of Skip Holtz as the programís head coach in 2004. Had Holland not acted so boldly months into his tenure, the Pirates probably wouldnít be among the best programs from non-AQ conferences.

A significant upgrade to the non-conference schedule has been equally important to making the Pirates attractive to potential conference suitors such as the Big East. It has guaranteed high-profile televised games for ECU, unprecedented demand for season tickets, and the opportunity to grab headlines with multiple victories over BCS automatic qualifier opponents.

"What we've got to find is a schedule that's exciting for our fans and for recruits," Holland said in 2004. "And we're going to find it. We're going to do everything we can to create that. Not only is East Carolina University behind us but this whole community is, as well as the whole region.

"And I think they want to see great athletics, and they want to see us play a wonderful schedule and we're going to find a way to do that."

ECUís upgrade in scheduling no doubt makes it more attractive to an AQ conference whenever the next round of realignment commences. So does the Piratesí unrivaled football success in Conference USA, the numerous national television appearances they have made over the past four years, and the improvements in facilities that extend from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and into the non-revenue sports.

Those factors should be easy for Holland to sell.

What will be more difficult to dispel are the lingering myths that East Carolina doesnít provide an attractive television market, or that it canít be successful in hoops. You can bet that both will be presented as potential obstacles to ECUís admittance into a better league.

But if Holland can sell the benefits of a long-term football series to North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, and Virginia Tech, you would think he can demonstrate that the ECU market extends far beyond the Eastern North Carolina corridor, and that the Pirates can be successful in hoops as well.

And it is paramount for him to do so when you consider how realignment is likely to unfold.

When the Big Ten (or Pac-10) eventually decides to launch the next round of expansion, it could be as cataclysmic as the scenario several years ago that saw the ACC, Big East, C-USA, MAC, and Mountain West Conference all experiencing major restructuring. Regardless of how many teams the Big Ten decides to add, it will likely dip into another AQ conference to up its membership.

Those conferences that are raided will have to target other leagues to fill the void, and itís unlikely that anyone will be seeking schools for football-only membership. That seemed like a possibility a couple of years ago, but thatís before anyone envisioned the Big Ten jumping back into the expansion game.

Now football-only membership might not be in play.

When the dust settles on the next round of conference realignment, East Carolina desperately needs to become a fully qualified member of the system that many of its fans insist is tyrannical. The most likely scenario would be for spots to open in the Big East, or for the league to be proactive by increasing its membership to 12 so that it can add a championship game.


O'Brien: Holland facing biggest task yet
BVL Audio: Billy Godwin after the USC series
BVL Box Score: ECU 4, South Carolina 2
BVL: Golden Hurricane Hurtts
BVL Box Score: ECU 4, South Carolina 3
BVL Box Score: South Carolina 6, ECU 2
BVL: Mustangs fend off East Carolina
Bradsher: Strong medicine has its purpose
BVL Box Score: ECU 11, Old Dominion 2
Bailey: 'Family' ties bind Ruff regime
BVL: Pirates perched in baseball polls
Batten: Ruff rounds up sound crop of recruits

This might be the last opportunity for East Carolina to leave the have nots and join the haves. If Holland can secure that for East Carolina, it will go down as the defining accomplishment of a decorated coaching and administrative career.

He definitely has ECU in much better shape for consideration by AQ leagues than it was the last time around.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

03/01/2010 01:11 AM

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