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Easley makes delayed pitch for Pirates Staff Report

After declining to assist East Carolina in its effort to gain consideration for Atlantic Coast Conference membership when that league was adding schools, North Carolina governor Michael Easley (D) has made a belated gesture on behalf of the Pirates' push to gain a spot in the Big East.

In a letter sent to Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese earlier this week, Easley touted ECU's positive academic profile, its rich tradition in athletics and its modern athletics facilities. He made particular note of the Pirates' supportive fan base.

ECU, which in early August enlisted the consulting services of  former Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer to assist in upgrading the school's conference affiliation, has for some time been lobbying behind the scenes to line up a membership in a league with a direct tie-in to the Bowl Championship Series or whatever subsequent arrangement emerges to determine a national football champion.

Until now, ECU had received no visible support from the governor in its efforts to achieve that objective. That is in striking contrast to the intense campaign by Virginia governor Mark Warner to aid Virginia Tech in its uphill but successful campaign to gain admittance to the ACC — a contrast that has been a sore subject in many quarters east of I-95.

When he was commissioner of the SEC, Kramer was the driving force behind putting together the BCS, a cartel involving six of the nation's 11 Division I-A football leagues, ABC Television and a limited number of lucrative bowl games.

Because of the economic and geographical advantages that would accompany membership in the Big East and the potential for building natural rivalries with other Eastern schools such as Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse and West Virginia, that league has been the object of ECU's pursuit of a new home since the Pirates' overtures to the ACC were brushed off.

ECU is a member of Conference USA, which spans half of the continental U.S. and which appears headed towards an even more westerly configuration with the anticipated losses of Cincinnati and Louisville to the Big East and the addition of current Western Athletic Conference members Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa.

At the present time, the Big East remains one of six conferences with guaranteed access to a BCS bowl each year. However, that status for the league may be in jeopardy with the announced defections of football linchpins Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC.

Regardless of questions about the the future of the Big East's relationship with the BCS, it has been no secret that ECU has continued to lobby for a spot in the league.

The Big East, which has been staggered with the announced defections of the Eagles, Hokies and Hurricanes, has for weeks been actively deliberating its future configuration and pondering new members to shore up its decimated football alignment.

Easley has been harshly criticized among some segments of ECU's constituency for his indifference to the school's aspirations to achieve more desirable conference affiliation.

Easley's letter to Tranghese comes less than two weeks before what is expected to be a climactic Big East meeting on Nov. 4 in which that league's leaders will decide which schools will be formally issued invitations to fill the vacancies created by the departures of BC, Miami and VPI.

Florida newspapers have reported in recent days that another of C-USA's most eastward schools, South Florida, is poised to join the Cardinals and Bearcats in moving to the Big East. The spot the Bulls would fill is the one the Pirates have been pursuing in earnest.

ECU, Central Florida, Army and Navy have been mentioned in some media accounts as possible candidates for football-only bids to join the Big East.

Nick Floyd, the Pirates' interim director of athletics, indicated in a recent interview that ECU would be reluctant to embrace an invitation that did not encompass all sports.

Sources close to the ongoing deliberations say it is not clear that USF — or for that matter, Cincinnati — has the necessary votes to squeeze ECU out of the Big East's pending reformulation.

02.23.07 11:20 AM

©2003 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. staff member Danny Whitford contributed to this report.

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