The news of East Carolina’s departure from Conference USA was a surprise to me. I know the university wants to compete in a BCS conference, but the move seems a hasty one. ECU is moving to the Big East in football only. Why move the football program to a traditionally strong basketball conference? There are some competitive football schools in the Big East, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Pitt. Oh wait, those schools are LEAVING!! Well at least the basketball is strong in the Big East with UConn, Louisville, and Notre Dame. Oh wait, we aren’t playing basketball in this conference and at least 2 of those schools are LEAVING!! So again why the move to the Big East? It looks to me to be about the money. I hate to make this seem like nothing more than a money grab, but let’s call a spade a spade.
East Carolina has experienced tremendous growth while being a member of Conference USA. The athletic facilities were significantly upgraded in September 2002 with the addition of the Murphy Center, a 52,475 square foot monolith that sits between Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and Minges Coliseum. The football stadium has added an 84’ wide and 28’ tall high definition score/video board (which ranks in the top 25 boards in college football) along with 7,000 additional endzone seats. The university also added an auxiliary scoreboard to the Murphy center to allow fans easy visibility access from all over the stadium. So with this sustained growth of the university and the stability of being in Conference USA why make the jump to a basketball conference? I believe the university should have chosen to stand pat and wait to see where the chips fall regarding the shifting of conferences.
With traditional football powers Rutgers, Pitt and Syracuse leaving the Big East, the door was opened for ECU to join. The university chose to join the Big East but only committed the football program. Just today the ACC announced Louisville, will be leaving the Big East and has committed to replacing Maryland in the conference. So even within the Big East there is still uncertainty. Many prognosticators see UConn being the next target of the Atlantic Coast Conference so it just bewilders me why the move? I’m certain the Big East has teams lined up replace those departing but undoubtedly the conference will be weaker in football and basketball.
East Carolina should have waited and maintained their allegiance to Conference USA. Then when the dust settled from all the comings and goings in the ACC, they may have been offered an opportunity to join the ACC. By prematurely committing to the Big East this possibility seems less likely. As previously mentioned, one major factor in this decision was getting into a BCS eligible conference, understandable. The other major factor was money. The per team revenue in Conference USA for its participating football schools is $1.17 million. That payout in the Big East for it’s football schools jumps to $3.18 million. That is a jump of $2 million, however the Big East conference is the next conference due for a renewal of it’s television deal. It is expected the deal will be considerably less than the $1.4 billion that was the last offer. In contrast the ACC payout to its participating football schools is a staggering $16 million. When you factor in the geographical aspect of the universities the ACC is a perfect fit for East Carolina. Greenville is only 80 or so miles from the triangle area. The logical move would be joining the ACC but I guess the desire to be in a BCS conference now superseded the possibility of being invited into the ACC in the future.
The move will allow them the chance to make it to a BCS bowl and the school will experience a bump in television revenue, but the move is to a conference made weaker with the departure of Louisville, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Pitt. ECU has been competitive in Conference USA, actually they have been better than competitive, compiling an overall record of 65-47 since joining the conference in 1997. With so many variables and moving parts, the NCAA is in a state of flux. Had ECU exhibited a little patience I believe they could have ended up in a better, and richer conference.
The landscape of college football is changing. The days of super-conferences are coming. By only committing the football program ECU could easily transition to another conference should a better opportunity present itself. Don’t be surprised if we see more schools depart the ACC for the SEC. The conference has addressed this potential problem with the addition of Louisville, Syracuse, and Pitt. Also, Notre Dame has committed all sports except football to the ACC, but the Fighting Irish football team will play 5 games versus ACC opponents. The Pirates could have been the next school considered when Clemson and/or Florida State decide to bolt for the SEC. Any conference will be fortunate to have the Pirates. With an ever increasing fanbase and strong alumni support, East Carolina University is on the way up.
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