Et Tu, ECU?

The Chinese curse of “may you live in interesting times” could not possibly be any more applicable than it is today in Terry Holland’s offices in Greenville.  That’s because with the ACC expanding — again — the ECU athletic director has an interesting set of possibilities, with some of them possibly meaning disaster for one of the most ambitious programs in the country. 

ECU could either finally end up in a major (read: BCS) conference, which seems to have been its goal since the school took up sports, or it could once again end up on the scrap pile of irrelevancy by not moving at all and remaining in the husk of what’s left of Conference USA once this game of sports conference musical chairs is done.

 First, the ACC.  To some sports pundits not in ACC territory, the latest round of conference expansion has some surprising dance partners.  To those of us in the traditional heart of the conference, not so much, in fact, the ostensible two new members of the ACC perfect sense.  Syracuse was strongly considered in the expansion that brought BC, Viginia Tech and Miami into the ACC. At that time, it was widely held that the conference honchos wanted Syracuse rather than VT. The rub was that Virginia was told by its state government that it could not vote “aye” for the expansion plans unless VT was included. Thus, it was Syracuse out, VT in. In 2011, however, Jim Boeheim in the ACC is a logical conclusion to a process that started long ago.

Pitt was also mentioned at that last round of ACC expansion, albeit only slightly, but it makes sense given that the ACC will not get who it really wants: Penn State. While the Nittany Lions hardly have a notable basketball program, the whole expansion issue revolves around football, and the ACC would love to see its logo on the field in Happy Valley. That won’t happen, of course, because Penn State is a content Big Ten member…so Pitt it is.  And why not?  The Panthers are in a huge television market full of some of the most passionate sports fans in the world,  fans who support their team so rabidly that it is fair to compare them to English Premiere League (soccer) fans.  Given those qualifications, Pitt is a no-brainer over the ACC’s headquarters in Greensboro.

Pitt’s move, however raises a very good question: what’s West By-God Virginia going to do, especially with two of its natural rivals — Pitt and VT — in a new ACC? One could see the Mountaineers coming to the ACC hat-in-hand, asking to join and bring their ambulance beating and couch burning traditions into the conference.  Whether the ACC is interested, however, is another story, and it doesn’t appear that John Swofford is cutting any new trails into the hills leading to Morgantown.

That brings us back to ECU.  You can bet that the purple clad fans to the Wolfpack’s eastern flanks are not planning to be left out this time.  There’s talk of joining the Big East, which seems reasonable given the wounds that John Marinatto will want to salve almost immediately as his conference disintegrates around him as it currently is.  That might happen, given the Big East’s desperation.  Their position is so dire, it’s almost a palpable smell in the air.

It’s probably not what the Pirates really want, however, and while they to a fan might say that they do, if they have a moment of clarity and one of blunt honesty, they’ll probably tell you that they want into the ACC, after all, it’s where the two flagship UNC System schools — their hated rivals — reside.  ECU, if nothing else, wants to be one of the Big Boys, not only in sports, but also in the UNC System itself.  While the university is growing leaps and bounds and has steadily grown and increased its academic stature, joining the ACC would probably represent — to them — their crowning as one of a Big Threein terms of universities that they envision their having a natural right to be among.

Problem is, it doesn’t appear that the ACC is interested. The Pirates have a sub top-100 local TV market and no real basketball tradition, so they offer next to nothing to the ACC’s demographics experts.  The ACC will easily overlook the fact that ECU’s fanbase is one of the most loyal and rabid you will find – while comparitively small next to the Universities of Tennessee or Alabama, their devotion approaches SEC-type love.  In fact, I often think of South Carolina and its fans when I think of a school to compare ECU’s fans to.  Love or hate the Gamecocks or the Pirates, their fans are in their seats when their teams play, win or lose.

 The one thing trump card that the Pirates do have, however, is a powerful set of state legislators here in North Carolina who would like to see their school prosper in athletics and who also have a great deal of influence on the University system through the state of North Carolina’s budgetary process.  All that said: do not be too surprised if in North Carolina you see a VT-UVA type effort from the state legislature on the behalf of ECU — a school that wants into the BCS so badly its fans never stop talking about it.  These days, prosper means the BCS, and it would not at all be very surprising in the least to see those fellows who haunt Jones Street try to pull the same game on the ACC that their counterparts in Virgina did not too many years ago.  And who knows, they just might win…never underestimate the powers of persuasion that those who control the purse strings have.  Fools in the past have done just that, usually to their chagrin.

So, with all of this in mind, Terry Holland must choose his next move carefully, as it will likely define his career at ECU for all time.  Coach Holland most definitely lives in interesting times.

ACC & Other General

36 Responses to Et Tu, ECU?

  1. Astral Rain 09/18/2011 at 11:37 AM #

    I don’t think the state legislature can save ECU – there are 10 and soon to be 12 voting members who won’t care what the State legislature thinks, and the ACC doesn’t need to go to 16 anytime soon.

    If the ACC goes to 18 I think they’d have a small shot- but I think UConn will make 15, and 16 is up in the air (Rutgers I have a feeling won’t end up 16)

  2. leewolf 09/18/2011 at 11:44 AM #

    Agreed, ECU doesn’t have the votes, even if the NCGA was to get involved, and I doubt they will. Plus with the great power broker of the East, Marc Basnight, no longer in power in Raleigh, the possibility of ECU getting in shrink further.

    WVU can come hat-in-hand but that only happens if the ACC is desperate to get to 16 or trying to fill the void left by someone in the league leaving for the SEC or Big Ten. I don’t see anyone leaving with the new $20 million buyout that was unanimously agreed to by the league presidents. Same goes for Louisville, they have no shot.

    Your only real expansion candidates are UConn, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. The first two are the most realistic and therefore are the most likely, and who I think we end up with.

  3. Alpha Wolf 09/18/2011 at 12:06 PM #

    I agree with you fellows on both counts. I can see ECU in the Big East, but if the BE keeps dropping big programs, do they stay in the BCS? That’s a question that could fuel ECU’s aspirations into deperatate levels where the ACC is concerned.

  4. wolfpack95 09/18/2011 at 12:07 PM #

    Mike Slive is commish for the SEC, not the BE.
    Great piece, Alpha.

  5. Plz2BStateFan 09/18/2011 at 12:09 PM #

    I think we should keep talking about Texas as one of the teams to get to 16. Its much more exciting even if it may not happen.

  6. wolfpack95 09/18/2011 at 12:25 PM #

    I would like to see the ACC maintain geographic integrity, schools in the east and states along or near the Atlantic and contiguous to one another—obviously BC does not currently meet all of these criteria.
    UT does not meet these criteria.

    Why would these criteria be important? Geographic proximity generates excitement, and that is evident in the Big 10 and SEC. Both conferences have prospered b/c fans are excited by rivalries bred by proximity and that in turn leads to tv’s tuned in to watch games—thus more advertising dollars and bigger tv contracts.

  7. Master 09/18/2011 at 12:31 PM #

    Where is the editor?

  8. 87stategrad 09/18/2011 at 12:43 PM #

    North Carolina politics have changed quite a bit since EZU went crying to Mommy 20 years ago. If we never play them again, I’ll be happy.

  9. SaccoV 09/18/2011 at 12:47 PM #

    Nice piece, Alpha. ECU’s clout with the BOG and other university system will be the determining factor on their inclusion. I agree that WVU makes much more sense for both TV revenue and athletic prestige. If Swofford gets WVU, I’ll gladly take ECU as a concession.

  10. Shadow722 09/18/2011 at 12:47 PM #

    “I would like to see the ACC maintain geographic integrity, schools in the east and states along or near the Atlantic and contiguous to one another—obviously BC does not currently meet all of these criteria.
    UT does not meet these criteria.”

    With the addition of Pitt and Syracuse, the ACC now has contiguous geography. NY borders both Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Pa borders Maryland.

    States now contiguous to ACC (where we have no presence and after the current expansion) Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Delaware, NJ, Conn, Vermont, NH, and RI.

  11. Piratefan 09/18/2011 at 12:49 PM #

    ACC jumped first… You guys are heading to the SEC. ACC trying to pick up some pieces first. Of course we’d love to be in the ACC.If you guys pass on the SEC they come to ECU and UNC-Charlotte next.

  12. ganymebe 09/18/2011 at 1:04 PM #

    But at some point, once you get on a plane to go to BC, Syracuse, or Pitt, you can just as easily get to Texas. The fact that the states don’t touch starts to lose meaning. About the only difference is one time zone.

  13. PeeDub 09/18/2011 at 1:54 PM #

    Texas _is technically_ on the Atlantic Ocean. Just sayin’.

  14. RabidWolf 09/18/2011 at 1:55 PM #

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there some kind of conference rule concerning partial and non qualifiers? I seem to remember that being one of the reasons CTC gave for not playing EZU. If there is such a rule, then EZU wouldn’t be able to accept partial or non-qualifiers into their athletics program (specifically for football), thus rendering them impotent, and relegating them to the bottom of the league for a long, long time. Not that I’m opposed to seeing the PieRats get their asses handed to them on a regular basis, but this would hurt the ACC overall.

  15. blpack 09/18/2011 at 2:58 PM #

    I can’t imagine EC in the ACC. They bring little to the table. Very supportive fans however. They should go indy in football and go back to the CAA for other sports.

  16. FunPack 09/18/2011 at 3:09 PM #

    Great article AW. SFN needs more Alpha Wolf.

    I just can’t see any way ECU gets into the ACC in the current environment. Academics are one thing, and TV markets are another, but the biggest obstacle I see is the other members of the ACC. Most non-North Carolina schools already consider the ACC to be too North Carolina-centric. I can’t see them agreeing to give even more influence to the one state that already has 4 members. I could easily see the NC powers-that-be “encouraging” the 4 current NC schools to push for ECU membership, and I could also see that vote ending up as 4 for and 8 (or 10) against.

    And of course we are back to what everyone knows is driving this conference-a-palooza… TV money. There are certainly some candidates out there that the TV networks would prefer the ACC to add. I’m not educated enough to argue the merits and warts of ALL the various schools, but I do have an opinion about West Virginia. I like West Virgina, for some odd reason. Maybe because: they be craaazy. I think they would fit culturally, geographically, and athletically. But they basically are ECU-North for the purposes of conference imperialism/expansion. Academics (lack of), TV viewership (lack of), and nearby rivals that wouldn’t want to elevate them (surplus of)… it’s all the same as ECU.

    On the subject of Texas… please ACC just say no. Texas is an outstanding university. They obviously have outstanding athletic programs and they sport a big wad of sexy TV appeal in their genuine leather ass-less chaps. I live in Texas (well, my house is there anyway) so I have lots of UT friends. But there is a reason the BIG 12 has imploded, and it pretty much begins and ends with UT. They are so big and wield so much appeal ($$) that they tend to de-stabilize everything around them. Kind of like a black hole that gobbles up whole planets, except with really cute cheerleaders and beef on-the-hoof. UT has acted all along in their own best interests, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But they badly underestimated just how much a competitive (i.e. financial) imbalance would destabilize what had been a pretty good thing for them. I can easily see the same type of thing happening again a few years down the road if they join the ACC. They will eventually decide it is in their best interests to do something that renders the ACC unstable again. Just my 2 pesos.

  17. Skoll 09/18/2011 at 3:51 PM #

    ECU will never get in the ACC and it doesn’t matter how much clout the NC legislature has over State and unc. ECU would never, EVER get the votes from the other 12 members of the conference. It would be a symbolic 2 to 12 vote.

  18. Hungwolf 09/18/2011 at 4:54 PM #

    Adding two schools allows the ACC (per contract) to get out of the current TV deal and do another one. Something the league really needed to do as they messed up signing such a long term deal before that ended being less than the what the big Ten and the SEC got. The league and its members jumped at the chance, this is all about money, plain and simple. There will be no talk about adding ECU, ECU would be wise to look to start a new league with UNC-Charlotte, and possibly App State, that may be jumping to D-1. f not they should stay in conference USA, which if the Big East folds, may find itself an up and coming super conference.

  19. 61Packer 09/18/2011 at 5:06 PM #

    ECU WILL end up in a 16-team megaconference, the Big Remnants Conference, with ECU, Cincinnati, Southern Miss, Louisville, Memphis, South Florida, Central Florida, Army, Navy, UAB, Marshall, Baylor, SMU, Houston, Tulsa and Tulane.

  20. Dogbreath 09/18/2011 at 5:21 PM #

    61, my God that is an awful lineup. Like a bad ESPNU dream.

  21. sundropdrinker13 09/18/2011 at 6:21 PM #

    Some of those teams are good teams, better that State. We play Cincy in 4 days, and we will probably lose to them. Cincy was one of the best a few years ago. ECU seems to have more ups than State does, and they usually do better than expected. USF, obviously a good team. Way better than State. SMU is on the rise, Houston has been good for the past few years. UCF has also been good. Navy has been ranked in the past few years, and gave USC a tougher time yesterday than we would have. So, not so awful a lineup as first thought. And don’t forget about TCU. They are supposed to go to the Big East next year, but if the BE implodes, where do they go?

  22. wolfpack95 09/18/2011 at 6:22 PM #

    You mean Conference USA and the C-USA returnees.

  23. pack76 09/18/2011 at 6:29 PM #

    I’m happy with Pitt. & Cuse! But in future expansion, lets go south and not north again.

  24. Pack1997 09/18/2011 at 6:49 PM #

    I wish there was another school in GA or SC we could get. Since there isn’t, if we go south I wouldn’t mind a USF or UCF. I would prefer USF. However I assume the reason we are going north is because schools in the southern States are happy on how the State is represented in the conference and wouldn’t be for adding a new member in their own states. If we could get a Kentucky or Louisville along with UConn, I think we would be sitting pretty. We would be decent in football and we would own College Basketball!

  25. pack76 09/18/2011 at 7:25 PM #

    yeah, I’m happy with South Florida and I’d like to see us go after Kentucky and/or Vandy.

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