ACC missed on ECU

Staff WriterNovember 5, 2009 

All these years later, we know that then-Virginia governor Mark Warner had a better vision for ACC expansion than almost everyone else during the controversial spring and summer of 2003.

It's just too bad for all parties, including the ACC, that Warner didn't incorporate East Carolina into his strategy.

Warner's decision to force-feed Virginia Tech on the ACC has turned out to be the bright spot in the move from nine to 12 teams. Miami and Boston College, although excellent schools with impressive athletic traditions, haven't been good fits.

For interest, rivalry and territorial security, ECU, which plays Virginia Tech today at 7:30 p.m., would have been a much more exciting option for the ACC.

Imagine tonight's matchup as an ACC league game. Or how much fun it would be if the Pirates played N.C. State or North Carolina as a fellow member of the ACC.

Regionalism was the argument Warner used to impose his political influence on Virginia president John Casteen. In effect, Casteen was instructed to inform other ACC members that he would not be able to support an expansion that excluded the Hokies. A UVa vote against expansion, combined with "no" votes already cast by Duke and North Carolina, would have been enough to maintain membership at nine schools.

Warner's strong-arm antics didn't go over well with many parties within the ACC. Now, the ACC owes Warner a thank-you note for a dose of strong medicine.

Were it not for Virginia Tech's infusion of football fan interest and success, expansion almost certainly would qualify as a catastrophe.

Expansion was all about adding enough helmets to qualify for a conference football championship game that has been virtually meaningless and roundly unpopular, and increasing the regional television inventory.

The return has been a good, solid Boston College team that has a loyal but small private-school fan base in a market where college athletics will never be a television hit, and a Miami program that's running on fumes.

None of this is to suggest that the Pirates are Prince Charming in a purple robe. Like most schools, ECU comes with a give-take equation.

Like Virginia Tech, there's not a big ready-made TV market to tap. And like Virginia Tech, basketball success will always be problematic. But ECU could help solidify the boundaries, expand the football fan base and intensify the emotion - all of the things Virginia Tech has done and what the Southeastern Conference has used to become the television contract gold standard.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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