East Carolina football pledged its future to the Big East on Tuesday, a move that Director of Athletics Terry Holland said will give ECU an easier road to bigger and better bowls and potentially give the university a good deal more revenue.
Holland and ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard confirmed ECU’s football-only switch from Conference USA — the Pirates’ conference since 1996 — at a news conference Tuesday on campus.
“I think access to the best bowl games — and the one that you want to be in is a BCS bowl game — it provides that opportunity,” Holland said of the Big East football move, which will take effect in 2014. “I don’t think there is any doubt that the potential for revenue is an important piece of it. It shouldn’t be a driving factor in college athletics, but it’s a factor that we all have to be conscious of and make sure that we are stewards of those resources.”
Holland stressed the change, which came on the same day that fellow Conference USA member Tulane announced it was accepting a Big East invitation for all sports, was a football decision. He and Ballard said that finding a future home for ECU’s 18 other sports was an immediate priority.
“It’s our intention to use this announcement today as a springboard to make sure that we find the very best competitive situations for all 19 of our sports,” Holland said, noting that former Big East members like Virginia Tech and West Virginia began as football-only but were able to parlay their success into full membership for all sports. “The next step will be to find an equally exciting and competitive environment for the 18 sports other than football.”
Holland lauded Ballard’s drive to help put the Pirates into a league that in 2014 will look a lot like the old C-USA, though it expects to still have the likes of recent acquisitions Boise State and San Diego State to help redefine the new-look conference.
Ballard said the move was the result of a commitment to bettering ECU.
“It doesn’t come through gratuities. It comes through hard work, great coaches, improving our national brand and doing the right things for the university,” he said.
ECU and Tulane became part of a recent mass exodus from C-USA to the Big East. The Pirates and Green Wave are set to join current C-USA members Houston, Southern Methodist, Memphis and Central Florida, along with former C-USA participants South Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville.
In addition to Boise and SDSU, Temple also is on board, and Navy expects to join the league in 2015 with the hopes of landing at 14 football members.
Rutgers last week announced it is leaving the Big East to join the Big 10.
Amid such heavy turnover, both Holland and Ballard are aware the Big East lineup might be different before the Pirates make their debut.
“Conference realignment is continuous, and I think everybody knows that now,” Ballard said. “The TV markets mean so much to the revenues of each institution. We view it to be an ongoing situation. We feel if our performance is where we want it to be across 19 sports, we’re going to position ourselves to be in a good place for all of those changes that I think are inevitable. This is a great first step.”
Ballard said he did not know what to expect in terms of revenue. The chancellor noted that the Big East and Commissioner Mike Aresco — who joined the news conference via teleconference — are negotiating a new TV contract.
“We feel very, very confident that this going to be a real step up for the revenues of our athletic program,” Ballard said.
Aresco echoed the sentiment, saying the Big East has garnered “significant interest” from every major network, and he also raised the possibility of a Big East network. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, Aresco was singing the praises of its newest football member.
“You have a wonderful and deep football pedigree and tradition of outstanding teams and unrivaled fan support,” Aresco said of ECU. “Your fan base is legendary, as committed as any in the country. The Big East has always been a conference of opportunity for new members, and the country will soon see more of East Carolina football.”
Contact Nathan Summers at email@example.com or 252-329-9595.