Nov 292012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

About 15 hours after East Carolina made official its plans to join the Big East in football, another domino fell.

Louisville accepted an invitation to the Atlantic Coast Conference early Wednesday morning, immediate proof that conference expansion never stops. Though such a quick change wasn’t expected even the previous evening when ECU officials announced the move to the Big East beginning in 2014, no changes at this point would surprise the university’s administration or Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco, who last week saw long-standing member Rutgers leave for the ACC.

“It’s a fact of life,” Aresco said of conference expansion. “It happened to the ACC recently. It happened to the Big 12 last year. None of us likes it particularly, obviously, but it’s a fact of life and it does create opportunities.”

Needless to say, countless things have changed in the Big East since ECU first began trying to position itself for such a move, not the least of which is membership.

As one team after another began switching leagues in the early 2000s and those leagues shuffled to accommodate and plan for their future, administrators like ECU Chancellor Dr. Steve Ballard were forced to roll with the punches. For the Pirates it proved to be a long process, but Ballard said he had a constant in that process in Director of Athletics Terry Holland.

“I’ve been working on the Big East since I was 10,” Ballard joked after announcing ECU’s conference move, part of an effort which predates his May 2004 arrival at ECU. “We’ve been trying to position ourselves ever since coach Holland came here, and that cuts across specific conference affiliation. It really has to do with the brand and the image and the performance of every one of our sports, and frankly the success of our student-athletes means a great deal to that. All of those things we’ve been working on since Terry came over eight years ago.”

From the top

While Aresco tries to land a new TV deal for the ever-changing Big East, he feels the league speaks for itself in terms of football quality.

Even with the new BCS scenario that will place the Big East among the bottom five conferences and force them to all vie for one BCS bowl berth, Aresco feels his league remains the cream of that crop and offers the best exposure.

“It’s an opportunity to have more of the country see you, to play at the highest level,” Aresco said. “We know we can challenge the other five (BCS automatic qualifier) conferences. We always have, and we have a seat at the table. We have access for our champion, if it’s the highest-ranked champion in the group of conferences, and we expect it to be. It would have been seven of the past eight years, and we would have been playing on New Year’s Day or New Year’s Eve.”

Even with the loss of Louisville on Wednesday, Aresco thinks the Big East’s impending new members from the west, Boise State and San Diego State, give the conference what he called “a truly national” football presence.

He also noted that the traditional basketball conference is helped greatly by the publicity that comes with its hardwood tradition, though a chunk of that is on its way out after the Cardinals’ announcement. Despite the seemingly endless turnover, Aresco thinks securing a strong TV partnership in football is a certainty.

“We feel like with roughly 90 games, a championship football game, great product, great teams … now we’ve got big markets, up-and-coming teams, already established teams and we’re very confident the networks will recognize that,” he said.

Contact Nathan Summers or 252-329-9595.

via The Daily Reflector.


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