East Carolina football pledged its future to the Big East on Tuesday, a move that athletic director Terry Holland said will give ECU an easier road to bigger and better bowls and possibly 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 – Tuesday evening.
“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 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 fellow C-USA member Tulane announced it was accepting a Big East invitation for all sports, was a football decision. He and Ballard said, however, that finding a home for ECU’s 18 other sports was a 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 such as Virginia Tech and West Virginia began as football-only but were able to parlay their success into full membership for all sports.
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 recent acquisitions Boise State and San Diego State to help redefine the conference.
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, SMU, Memphis and UCF, along with former C-USA participants USF, Cincinnati and Louisville.
In addition to Boise and SDSU, Temple is also on board, and Navy expects to join the league in 2015. The league wants 14 football members.
Current member UConn is expected to soon follow Rutgers out of the conference.
Holland and Ballard are aware the current 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.”
Ballard said he didn’t know what to expect in terms of revenue.
The chancellor noted that the Big East and commissioner Mike Aresco – who joined the press conference via teleconference – are still 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 future Big East network.
Aresco said East Carolina had “a wonderful and deep football pedigree and tradition of outstanding teams and unrivaled fan support. Your fan base is legendary, as committed as any in the country,” Aresco said of ECU. “The Big East has always been a conference of opportunity for new members, and the country will soon see more of East Carolina football.”