East Carolina Big East boundPublished 10:37pm Tuesday, November 27, 2012
GREENVILLE — After years of relentlessly courting the Big East Conference East Carolina finally got the ‘yes’ it’s been looking for — sort of. On Tuesday the flirting shifted from being one-sided as the Big East decided to add East Carolina as a football-only member beginning in 2014.
The move from Conference USA to the Big East was met with jubilation as East Carolina University chancellor Steve Ballard and athletic director Terry Holland where joined by Big East commissioner Mike Aresco via speakerphone during a press conference held on campus Tuesday inside the Spilman Building.
“ECU has been offered, and we are pleased to accept, membership in the Big East Conference as a football school,” Ballard said. “We’ve been interested in this for a long time as you know and we feel very good about the opportunity. We think we will add great value to the Big East and we are going to work very hard to make sure that we’re a great institutional member and a football member of the Big East Conference. This is a really good day for East Carolina University.”
Aresco said the Pirates are welcomed edition to the conference.
“East Carolina is a great institution and will be a valued member of the Big East,” Aresco said. “(ECU) has a wonderful and deep football pedigree and a tradition of outstanding teams and unrivaled fan support. (ECU’s) fan base is legendary and is committed as any in the country.”
The move comes on the heels of the last week’s decision by Rutgers to leave the Big East and join the Big 10.
East Carolina originally joined Conference USA as a football-only member in 1997 before becoming a full member in the 2001.
Holland is hoping that the Pirates journey into the Big East can follow a similar path.
“The football-only opportunity is one that provided a gateway for East Carolina University to become a champion in Conference USA,” Holland said. “It certainly has become a pattern in the Big East as well with Virginia Tech and West Virginia, notable institutions that began as football-only institutions and gradually became full members in that conference and competed for championships.”
The move is filled with advantages for East Carolina as the Big East can offer better access to a BCS Bowl game, an added increase in national media coverage, and of course more money for the school.
“(The change in conference offers) access to the best bowl games, and obviously the one that you want to be in is a BCS Bowl game, and I think it provides that opportunity,” Holland said. “I don’t think there is any doubt the potential for revenue is an important piece of it. We all have to pay our bills. It shouldn’t be the driving factor in college athletics, but it is a factor that we all have to be conscious of and make sure that we are stewards of those resources.”
The Pirates weren’t the only C-USA members to earn an invite to the party as Tulane was also added to the Big East on Tuesday, but was named an all-sports member.
In terms of recent Conference USA success, ECU has dwarfed Tulane. However, the decision to add Tulane as an all-sports member wasn’t based solely on the number of wins or conference championships, but on the number of people in the region as the Big East continues to make a push to get into larger media markets.
Tulane University is located in the city New Orleans, which according to the U.S Census Bureau has a population of 360,740, while the city of Greenville’s is 86,017.
“Ultimately our basketball conference has really adopted a big market strategy. Virtually everyone one of our basketball schools is in a large market. Louisville, being a national brand, is the probably the only one that probably wouldn’t qualify for that designation, all though they are not in a small (market),” Aresco said. “The point is in football it’s different and I don’t really want to dwell on it. … We are extremely happy to have East Carolina in football.”
The Big East didn’t exactly feel that way in September 2011 when the Pirates applied for conference membership after the Big East lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh but were turned down.
However, with Rutgers’ defection from the Big East last week, along with the constant speculation that UConn is next, the conference finally decided to let ECU in the door.
“I think now is the right time because we as the Big East Conference have adopted a new model for football. We’ve adopted a new footprint,” Aresco said. “We want to be proactive. One thing I said upon becoming commissioner (in Aug. 2012) is that we weren’t going to sit back. We were going to be proactive and be aggressive where it was warranted and obviously when East Carolina expressed interest we saw an opportunity to add a great football brand to our conference.
“Terry (Holland) eluded to conference realignment, it’s happening. As I said recently when Rutgers left, ‘It’s a fact of life.’ You’re going to have it.
“It happened to the ACC recently, it happened to the Big 12 last year, it’s happened to the other conferences across the board. None of us likes it particularly … But it’s a fact of life and it does create opportunities.”
Ironically, in 2014 East Carolina’s new football conference will look a lot like the one it just left. When the Pirates begin Big East play there will be 13 football schools – ECU, UConn, Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati, Tulane, Temple, Boise State, San Diego State, UCF, SMU, Memphis, Houston — nine of which are C-USA alums.
“We look forward to renewing many rivalries that we had previously,” Ballard said. “We’ve had great contests for example with the Central Florida … We’ve had great rivalries with Cincinnati and Louisville in the past. All those programs of course have elevated, so they’re better programs than they were five years ago. So it will be better for us and we’re looking forward to that.”
The move of course comes with a fee, which could be as high as $7 million. That’s the price tag the Orlando Sentinel recently reported that Central Florida could pay for making the leap from C-USA to the Big East.
“There are exit fees in Conference USA and we will have the same ones that the four schools who left last year will,” Ballard said. “There is a $500,000 immediate payment and then others have to be documented and negotiated.”
Helping foot that bill will be increased revenue for TV rights. The Big East is currently negotiating TV deals with several media outlets and it is unclear at this moment how much ECU stands to profit from the move, but the overwhelming feeling is that it will benefit significantly.
“The TV contract with the Big East is still under negotiation but we feel very, very confident that this is going to be a real step up for the revenues of our athletic program,” Ballard said.