So much for all the fluff from the C-USA board about how everyone is "so happy" with C-USA
Pirates may be stuck between a rock and a hard
When East Carolina's search for a greener pasture in football landed it in Conference USA eight years ago, and in all sports a few years later, it didn't envision the league's current condition.
Off to the Big East next summer are C-USA's top football/basketball combo programs from Louisville and Cincinnati. South Florida, Marquette and DePaul are also heading to the Big East. TCU is joining the Mountain West Conference and Charlotte and St. Louis are moving to the Atlantic 10.
The landscape of C-USA is changing and it's not for the better. Conference USA as we know it is a solid football league and top heavy in hoops. But when Tulsa, Rice, SMU, UTEP, Marshall and Central Florida join on July 1, 2005, the league may not be as strong as the Western Athletic Conference in football or the Mid-American Conference in basketball.
Marshall will continue to excel on the gridiron and Tulsa and Memphis should usually have nice basketball squads. But the other schools offer very little, if anything, in the revenue sports.
Because of its recent football woes, ECU has lost the recognition it held on the gridiron just a few years ago, and has become an obscure football program, like many of the schools joining the league.
That the Pirates were more successful prior to entering C-USA may only be a coincidence, but the reality is rebuilding will be harder when aligning with a cast of characters more suited as homecoming fodder for bigger programs than rivals for a school with ECU's aspirations.
The Atlantic Coast Conference's continued rise on the field and its expansion, adding Virginia Tech and Miami this summer and Boston College next year, will only make life more difficult for ECU.
ECU suddenly finds itself in a mediocre at-best conference with little room to grow. Travel for non-revenue sports is expensive and only Marshall could likely develop into a legitimate regional rival.
Thus, it's time for the brass at ECU to seek alternatives.
The school must hire an athletic director with a vision. No moves will be made as long as Nick Floyd is interim athletic director.
ECU must either hire him permanently or get someone else.
The school made noise about wanting to join the ACC last summer but was never taken seriously and likely never will. They also wined and dined folks from the Big East but more than fell short of receiving an offer. But with an athletic director in place it should go for it again – but for football only.
The Big East needs teams, and after being pillaged by the ACC would do well in grabbing a program in the heart of ACC country.
Plus, ECU has some football culture and just a few years ago was far stronger than Cincinnati and was at least as good – and often better – than Louisville.
ECU will never gain full membership into the Big East, which is fine. It can try to get back into the Colonial Athletic Association for all other sports.
And after the CAA added Georgia State earlier this week, it's clear a football conference isn't the only thing on CAA commissioner Tom Yeager's mind, since GSU doesn't have a gridiron team.
Travel costs will be cut and the Pirates' baseball program will play a competitive schedule in the CAA. Conference USA's power rating is No. 7, the CAA's is No. 11, but 45-8 ECU is a big reason C-USA is the higher-profile baseball conference.
Conference USA has been good to ECU in several areas, but the league's future doesn't appear stable, and its members' interests and locations don't appear to mesh with ECU.
While Pirates' fans don't flock to games like some might have you believe, they still have a nice solid base of support and will embrace Big East membership.
A return to the CAA in other sports would also rekindle the hoops rivalry with UNC-Wilmington, and playing Big East football will fulfill many purple and gold dreams.
It won't be easy and may not be possible, but is the most sensible approach. Because otherwise ECU will be a vagabond program with a beautiful, but empty, stadium.
Andrew Jones can be reached at email@example.com