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Gridiron Pirates set sail for Big East

Fellow C-USA member Tulane accepts all-sports invite

From staff reports
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After two decades of trying to wedge its way into the Big East Conference, East Carolina finally succeeded on Tuesday, accepting an invitation to become a football-playing member of the league starting with the 2014 season.


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The announcement came in a late afternoon campus press conference involving ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard and Director of Athletics Terry Holland, with Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco and Chair of the Big East Board of Directors Judy Genshaft joining in by teleconference. Genshaft is President of Big East member South Florida.

"ECU is excited to become a football member of the Big East Conference," ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard said in a statement issued in conjunction with the press conference. "We know we will be successful and add value to the Big East."

Ballard praised the efforts of Holland and Executive Associate AD Nick Floyd in bringing about the opportunity for the Pirates to join the Big East.

"It is a great day to be a Pirate," Ballard added.

In an ECU release announcing the move of its football team to the Big East, Holland addressed the priority the school is placing on lining up a new league for its non-football teams.

"It is our intention for today’s announcement to be a strong first step toward finding the best competitive environment possible for ECU’s nineteen varsity sports," stated Holland, who is expected to embark immediately on an aggressive push to find those other teams a home.

Speculation on potential league affiliation for the Pirates' other sports has included the Atlantic-10, Southern Conference and Colonial Athletic Association. ECU has historical ties to both the Southern Conference and Colonial Athletic Association, having put in a lengthy membership stint in each.

Holland noted that the Pirates' association with Conference USA began on the gridiron.

"A football-only membership provided ECU’s gateway to an all sports membership in C-USA and a number of other successful programs, including Virginia Tech, received their opportunity through a football-only membership in the Big East," Holland said.

Aresco's statement welcoming the Pirates to the Big East highlighted ECU's merits on the gridiron and in the classroom. 

"... They have a strong football tradition and a consistently successful program that will help elevate our football league immediately," Aresco said. "The University is an outstanding academic institution that reflects the values important to the Big East Conference."

Holland observed that the Pirates' new league will include a number of familiar names.

"Big East football provides an opportunity to renew old rivalries and begin new ones, both of which will be exciting for our players, coaches and fans," he said.

Joining the Pirates in the Big East will be fellow Conference USA member Tulane, which accepted an all-sports invitation to the league on Tuesday.

Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky was gracious in his reaction to the schools' impending departures and expressed confidence that C-USA will successfully navigate the changing landscape in college sports.

""We thank East Carolina and charter member Tulane for all their contributions to the league and wish them well," Banowsky said in a statement. "These are unprecedented times in higher education. Notwithstanding the changes, we are excited about our future and we remain committed to our strategic plan — a major market, two-division conference that is student-athlete friendly."

ECU and the Green Wave will be reuniting with a number of schools that have departed or soon will depart C-USA for the Big East.

Former C-USA members Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida are all-sports members of the Big East, having joined the conference in 2005. Current C-USA members Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and Southern Methodist will enter the league in all sports in 2013.

A pair of teams which ECU has played in recent years, Boise State and Navy, will join the Big East for football only in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

San Diego State, a school which ECU has never faced on the gridiron, will accompany Boise State, UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU into the Big East in 2013.

Temple, a football-playing member of the Big East, will begin competing in all sports in 2013.

Other all-sports members of the Big East are Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Syracuse. Three of those schools — Pitt and Syracuse (to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013) and Rutgers (to the Big Ten) — are departing for other conferences.

UConn, Cincinnati and Louisville are considered to be prime membership targets of other conferences, including the ACC and Big 12.

East Carolina's pursuit of affiliation with the Big East began two decades ago. Former Athletic Director Dave Hart pushed aggressively for membership during his tenure with the Pirates.

In his live remarks during Tuesday's press conference, Aresco recalled that during his days as an ESPN executive that he and Hart successfully negotiated a contract for ECU, then an independent, to have a number of its games televised on the network.

Hart's successor, Mike Hamrick, downplayed the practicality of ECU seeking membership in the Big East during his eight years at the helm from 1995 to 2003.

But the effort picked up steam when then newly-named Chancellor Ballard tabbed Holland to take charge of ECU athletics in 2004. Holland's relentless, eight-year undertaking bore results with Tuesday's announcement.

The Big East's addition of ECU and Tulane is not expected to be the league's last move to fortify itself in the wake of multiple waves of defections in recent years. The Big East has courted Air Force, Brigham Young and Army and may also have its sights on an additional Conference USA team.

PAGE UPDATED 11/29/12 02:34 AM.

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