East Carolina University, in a joint announcement with the BIG EAST Conference, accepted a formal invitation Nov. 27 to join the league as a football member starting with the 2014 season.
ECU will continue its current partnership with Conference USA for the 2013 campaign and remain eligible for its post-season bowl opportunities, but also be included in all of the BIG EAST Conference’s future television, marketing, promotion and bowl negotiations.
“ECU is excited to become a football member of the BIG EAST Conference,” said ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard. “We know we will be successful and add value to the BIG EAST. While hundreds of dedicated Pirates have contributed, I especially want to recognize the relentless energy of Terry Holland and Nick Floyd in making this a reality. It is a great day to be a Pirate.”
ECU Pirates fans show their spirit at Dowdy-Ficklen stadium. (Photo by Mike Litwin)
“We are very excited to welcome East Carolina University into the BIG EAST Conference for football,” said Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco. “They have a strong football tradition and a consistently successful program that will help elevate our football league immediately. The university is an outstanding academic institution that reflects the values important to the BIG EAST Conference.”
The BIG EAST previously announced new members that will begin play in a football league with national scope in the 2013 season. Those schools are Boise State University, University of Central Florida, University of Houston, University of Memphis, Southern Methodist and San Diego State. Tulane University will also begin play in 2014. The Naval Academy will start BIG EAST play in 2015.
Existing teams include Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville and South Florida. The conference Nov. 13 announced plans to begin divisional play and introduce an inaugural BIG EAST Championship Game in 2014.
Founded in 1907, East Carolina University is a 105-year-old public university and research institution that is nationally recognized for preparing family physicians and educational professionals and for its strong performing arts programs.
The move to the BIG EAST will provide East Carolina access to one of the largest national media markets in the nation, including major population areas in Florida, Texas and California. The BIG EAST has post-season tie-ins to the Champs Sports Bowl (Orlando, Fla.), Belk Bowl (Charlotte), New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx, N.Y.), BBVA Compass Bowl (Birmingham, Ala.), AutoZone Liberty Bowl (Memphis, Tenn.) and Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl (St. Petersburg, Fla.).
ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard, left, and Athletic Director Terry Holland spoke to the media at a Nov. 27 press conference announcing the university’s move in football to the BIG EAST Conference. At the event, Ballard thanked all members of the “Pirate Nation” for their support and game attendance. (Photo by Jay Clark)
East Carolina has been a consistent winner on the football field, capturing back-to-back C-USA football titles in 2008 and 2009 and sharing the division co-championship with UCF this fall. The Pirates qualified for bowl appearances in six of the last seven years. Teams have averaged more than seven wins per season over the last five years despite playing a challenging schedule that often includes at least three contests against AQ BCS Conference opponents annually.
The Pirates’ fan base is large and loyal. East Carolina has consistently led Conference USA in attendance, topping all turnstile counts each season since 2008 with an average of 46,529. Since the completion of a 7,000-seat expansion project in 2010 that pushed the capacity of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to 50,000, ECU has set back-to-back school records in total attendance and season average attendance.
Nationally, East Carolina stands 45th in attendance in 2012 with an average of 47,013 – a number that would rank third among current BIG EAST members. The school trails only Louisville (49,991/40th) and Rutgers (48,466/42nd). Additionally, ECU ranks second among all non-AQ BCS members on the FBS level behind BYU (61,161/26th).
The Pirate program has also produced plenty of professional talent as 11 former players occupy various roster positions in the NFL, including All-Pro performers RB Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans) and FB Vonta Leach (Baltimore Ravens), as well as Super Bowl champions DT Linval Joseph (N.Y. Giants) and DE C.J. Wilson (Green Bay Packers). Former Pro Bowl and Super Bowl participants QB Jeff Blake, RB Earnest Byner, RB Tony Collins, QB David Garrard and LB Robert Jones, among others, also played collegiately at East Carolina.
“It is our intention for today’s announcement to be a strong first step toward finding the best competitive environment possible for ECU’s 19 varsity sports,” ECU Director of Athletics Terry Holland said. “Big East football provides an opportunity to renew old rivalries and begin new ones, both of which will be exciting for our players, coaches and fans. A football-only membership provided ECU’s gateway to an all sports membership in C-USA and a number of other successful programs, including Virginia Tech, received their opportunity through a football-only membership in the Big East.”
Holland explained that East Carolina’s next step would be to find an “equally exciting and competitive environment for the 18 sports other than football.” He confirmed ECU has not initiated contact with other conferences prior to Tuesday’s announcement but indicated the search will begin in earnest as soon as the press conference concluded.
“The changing conference circumstances in today’s intercollegiate athletics landscape practically ensures that our quest will always be a journey and not a destination,” Holland added.
ECU Pirates running back Vintavious Cooper of Homerville, Ga., carries the football against Houston Nov. 3 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. (Photo by Jay Clark)
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