With the Big East presidents having voted unanimously to expand football membership by at least two schools, initial speculation on new members has centered on TCU, Central Florida and Villanova.

Don’t count East Carolina University out too quickly.

Dwelling in the long shadows of Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest outside the Research Triangle, East Carolina has been in and out of the expansion picture, primarily one suspects because it suffers from an image problem.

ECU, however, is the second largest university in the state with almost 30,000 students. The school has a fanatical following in football and has just completed a stadium expansion this season, pushing capacity to more than 50,000 seats.

ECU Athletic Director Terry Holland is not bashful in presenting his case for conference membership.

“If there are conference realignments, ECU has controlled the things that are under our control and has positioned itself well with expanded and new facilities,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

As for television sets, Holland said ECU delivers measurable “eyeballs” in an area that would be the third largest television market in the country — within a 3.5 hour drive from Greenville — from Charlotte in the west to the east coast of NC and into the Tidwater region in Virginia.

“That area is also the home of over 80% of ECU’s 130,000 living alumni and well over 90% of the 50,000 fans who pack Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for football games,” he noted.

Maybe, just maybe, a diamond in the rough.

Related: The case for TCU in the Big East

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By Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

83 thoughts on “Don’t count East Carolina out of Big East expansion just yet”
  1. Wow, ECU and UCF, how dismal an outlook. How would this increase our football perception and strength again? I feel like were stuck in the Nova and Temple argument again… Sigh…

    1. ECU and UCF don’t fit the stereotype of the traditional powers and you’re never going to get those. However, they do reside in some excellent markets with lots of TV sets. Plus, they are positioned to grow their following in football — ECU already has a solid and loyal fan base, and UCF is in a football crazy state and in a very large market.

      That’s a lot of what wrong with college football, with a small base of traditional powers and the snotty unwillingness to let anyone else in the club. Frankly, it stinks.

      1. Another vote for ECU. A lot of history, new facilities, and another expansion in the works as well. Charlie, you need to do some research man. 1941 ECU was undefeated plenty of rankings. Only team in Conf Usa to win back to back conference championships. A lottof schools can flourish under BCS advantadges. Big East seems to like Villanova (FCS) in football, stadium holds 12k). By the way, most the time fans have to stream ECU football games off the Internet to watch.

      2. I’m starting to think you guys are proposing ECU and UCF because you don’t see any way you can beat TCU – THAT is what’s wrong with college football…

        1. How does TCU fit geographically? Do they want TCU because their ranked #3? TCU was in CONF. USA not too long ago. There’s plenty of teams to choose from

          1. I think the operative word is GREAT and geography only applies if your playing high school sports. I think the big east should pick any perennial top 10 football team they think they can get – anything else is a joke.

            1. and they were one second from playing in one last year, and are currently in prime position to play for it again this year (knock on wood they can beat a VERY good Utah team)

            2. U don’t have to be in the BCS to be perennial or in the top ten. To me it’s choosing you favorite art piece and that’s what their going to do.

              1. They’ve also finished four seasons having the #1 defense in the nation. I can’t believe Sammy Baugh played there, WOW!

              2. Yes, that’s what’s wrong with this whole process. I really don’t understand what Louisville fans have against TCU, I remember it being a fun rivalry of respect. And I REALLY would expect Louisville – of anyone – to understand. Since they were picked because they had a great football team.

              3. We do, this conversation is more about who would compliment TCU. That’s the beauty pageant piece…

      3. dude are crazy you have never been to a ECU game
        we have one of the best fan base in football
        you need to stop listing to those UNC fans

        1. Wow, someone used my name and said “we do, this conversation is more about who would compliment TCU. etc..”. #1 ecufan, been to plenty games. 1st game ever went to, peach bowl against Nc State. ECU fanbase is awesome

  2. What the Big East needs is schools that go out and beat other good football teams outside of league play to earn respect. ECU does that now in c-usa. They have wins over Va Tech, NC State, UNC, Boise State, and the Big East’s own West Virginia just in the last three years.

  3. Fine, TCU and ECU, but we MUST add a top 25 team, preferably a top 10 team. Little minds think only geographies, big minds think TV markets and recruiting… This is more about strengthening the image and getting TV eyeballs rather than a few thousand more butts-in-seats…

  4. ECU is the best choice due to their attendance the last few years. They also have a growing alumni base.

  5. East Carolina offers nothing but mediocre football. At least UCF would provide fun away trips to Orlando.

    1. Like I say, ECU suffers from an image problem. Actually, they’ve had some darn good teams in recent years. And Greenville is a nice place to visit, without the urban sprawl, traffic and over-priced attractions of an Orlando.

      1. I have been to Greenville. Nice town but I cannot conceive of wanting to make multiple trips there. And it is a very long drive and flying there would essentially mean flying to Raleigh and then having a couple hour drive from there.

        Florida is a lot more fun.

      2. I think that Orlando is one of the coolest and most unique cities in the country. To further prove my point UCF beat ECU 49-35 on Saturday in a game that no one watched or cared about.

        1. That’s only UCF’s 2nd win against ECU out of ten total played. We’re back to back conference champs and the only time UCF won the conference, we beat them. We are a better fit then UCF if this report is true about us being the #3 television market in the country. It is all about the money and if we’re in that market, with our state of the art facilities, and a rapidly growing alumni base then it only makes sense. That being said. ECU always gets screwed. And I wouldn’t expect us to be added. Probably TCU and UCF or TCU and Houston.

      3. If your talking about image I think ECU could be iconic with the skull and crossbones on their helmet! Look no further than 2009 ECU vs VT

      4. and UCF does not fill there stadem unlike ECU who fan come to the games and have 50,000 plus #1 in cusa in fan base

    2. The Big East is mediocre. Go do some research on ECU records against Big East teams like Cincinnati, Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. If ECU is mediocre then they are a great fit for the Big Feast. Then look at Central Florida’s historical records. 300+ games and only 2 Wins against major opponents. I guess you wouldn’t consider that mediocre though. By the way ECU is 2-1 against TCU. If youre gonna comment, back up what you spew.

  6. I miss playing UL and Cincy every year. ECU would really value and enjoy being back on the east coast.

    Don’t let um’ leave ECU behind, boys.


  7. People of the Big East. You cannot find another Division-I college football program with a proven, long and storied history of winning, that has in excess of 50,000 fans in attendance, that is capable of winning on a consistent basis along the East Coast of the United States, that hundreds of thousands of TV sets are tuned into on game day than ECU. In the state of North Carolina, believe it or not, Duke and Wake Forest FOOTBALL is lightyears behind ECU in attendance, and the ability to win and bring TV viewers. We are talking football here aren’t we???

  8. Are the decision makers in the B.E. aware that East Carolina has the second largest home attendance average of all of the Non-BCS (non-automatic qualifier)programs? ECU ranks second in that categorie only to BYU. Houston, TCU, Boise State, in particular UCF and Villanova are all behind ECU. What does any one think will happen if ECU has that BCS tag added as far as attendance is concerned? Think it might even go up from there. P.S. It does not snow in North Carolina during football season. You can attend games in November w/o freezing your you know what off.

    1. they think if ECU leaves cusa they will win big and titles will come to Greenville NC to the true fans

  9. UCF does not have a passionate or very large fan base for their football program. They were playing for control of the C-USA east division this past saturday. The game was on TV and it was very visible that at least 1/3 of the stadium was empty at kickoff and during the whole game. A program should have a proven passionate fan base that supports and attends their program’s games at home, before any TV Market can mean anything much. With all of the choices on TV at any time, why would the TV Market mean anything in a situation like that. How would a modest to poorly followed program generate revenues for a TV network covering them, even in a market of more that a million potential viewers? key word here is potential, not actual and guaranteed viewership. In that department, ECU has far more going for it than UCF, and really most of the others talked about in this Big East expansion discussion.

    1. Not to mention, the commentators at the UCF game kept making excuses for the low attendance, one of which was, wait for it, that FLORIDA was playing in Jacksonville (neutral site )that day against Georgia and maybe that’s why people didn’t come to the game! If your student and alumni base would rather watch one of the rival schools in your state play a game than come to their OWN SCHOOL’S GAME, then you have a serious problem. With an undergrad enrollment of 53K, there are no excuses not to fill Bright House Stadium, NONE! And getting into the BCS would not change that for UCF.

  10. ECU would definitely help the Big East in football. Anyone who does not think so does not really follow college football. There is maybe one or two programs at best (WVU being one) currently in the Big East that has anything much more going for it in football than ECU has had going for it over the past 15 to 20 years. Especially in the home attendance growth rate department.

  11. Hate to say this, but after reading the authors other articles, I’m convinced he has an agenda against TCU and he’s trying to stir up support solo for ECU. I don’t see any other reports that ECU is really being considered – most point to TCU as a lock, and someone else. I’m pretty sure that someone else is UCF or Houston, probably UCF.

    Any expansion that doesn’t include the #3 team which has a shot at the national championship, is likely just to dilute the Big East and open it up to public ridicule and humiliation.

  12. I actually think East Carolina is the BEST candidate. They have awesome fan support and always brought many fans to PJCS and I loved going to their stadium when we were in C-USA. For football and basketball recruiting, getting into NC, VA, SC is very important and I think a missing key piece to the Big East.

    1. Who ever does join the Big East they will only be in for football. Basketball is big enough with 16 teams. Also the basketball conference is the best in the country from top to bottom.

  13. By the way UCF might have beat ECU this yea but that was just their 2nd win over ECU ever. East Carolina is 8-2 vs UCF all time in football.

  14. Why isn’t anyone considering say TCU and Missouri? Go ahead and let’s take a crack at breaking up the Big 12-2.

  15. Because that doesn’t make any sense. You would have to call the conference the Big East/Midwest South Conference. Geographic Regional Rivalries matter during a football season. Play out of regional teams when you are good enough to make it to a bowl game. Then you have interest. TCU fans will not travel 1/2 of a country away to play UCONN, etc. and visa versa. ECU will travel well to anywhere in the Northeast year in and year out. When it comes to November games Big East teams playing in NC will not be playing in the snow. TV sets will be on watching the Pirates of ECU!

  16. Creighton, has UCF ever even beaten a BCS level team in it’s entire history? Let’s discuss what mediocracy in football actually is.

    1. ucf beat nc state and have played competitively with multiple big east big 12 and acc schools.

  17. Creighton, let me add that ECU has done so quite routinely as a non BCS program going back over many years. Other than Boise State and TCU who can say that. By the way, ECU has victories over Boise State and TCU as well over the years gone by.

  18. ECU is the strongest football school in the C-USA east Div. and being the back to back champ. means they have beaten the best teams from the west Div. They have more history with the B.E. than any other school being toss into this mix plus ECU has beaten many big name schools and have played schools from the SEC,Big 12,Big 10, Pac 10,and i’m just dusting to top.ECU is the best you can get

  19. I can’t think of any good reason why TCU would be interested in the Big East unless they think joining is the only way to get into an AQ conference. Since the trend appears to be 14-16 team conferences in the long run, I believe they will hold out for the Big 12 or even Pacific Coast Conference.

    Geography is the reason because it would make travel for non-revenue generating sports too expensive. Even basketball could be financially problematic because of the number of games. And I’m not sure adding a Texas TV market or recruiting area matters much unless you think other Big East schools have a lot of alumni in Dallas or that the better Texas kids will move to Syracuse knowing they will get only one game every two years close to home.

    I’ve thought ECU is the best choice for Big East expansion for some years, since they look to me a lot like Louisville looked ten years ago. They clearly want to move up in football, have a supportive fan base that travels, and have laid the groundwork (e.g. facilities) to be competitive at higher levels. They would almost certainly out recruit Duke and Wake if they could offer kids a shot at a BCS bowl.

    Taking ECU seems like a no-brainer to me.

  20. I wish the powers that be in the Big East take the same view, but unfortunately, schools like UCF with it’s 50000+ enrollment and inability to fill a 40000 seat beer can stadium (even when giving tickets away) will probably get the nod because Mickey Mouse is their neighbor… sad

  21. East Carolina has the most dedicated fans in CUSA and probably some of the most dedicates fan in North Carolina. Our fans show support in strong numbers against any opponent whether its the dismal Thundering Herd or then unranked NC State. East Carolina has the toughest schedule in CUSA, we regularly play teams outside of our conference just to compete, East Carolina pretty much runs CUSA with Houston but geographically Houston or TCU do not tie in well with the Big East and with the amount of money TCU has in endowment I don’t think they would even bother with the Big East.

  22. I think it’s interesting how UL, USF and UC fans look down on ECU. ECU was as good or better in CUSA (with the exception of a two year period). Moving to a BCS conference will greatly increase recruiting and overall program interest (as all three aforementioned schools have discovered). If the Big East is indeed looking for “football only” schools than they must be completely out of their minds to even consider Nova and Temple. Why not just move to 12 teams and a conference chamionship by picking up UCF, ECU, Southern Miss, and TCU (or Houston) if they would accept. All of those programs have a great football tradition and any of those programs can make a run into the rankings. It’s rediculous to think that those schools don’t make the Big East stronger. If the Big East doesn’t go to 12 schools in football, they will be done for in 5 years (IMO).

  23. Wow, Charlie… I never knew you had such passionate non-UofL fans patrolling your site. Always nice to see your sphere of influence increase. 🙂

  24. Excellent write up Charlie. Would be more than happy to rejoin U of L in the same conference once again.

    Thank you for your support and kind words for the Pirate Nation.

  25. UCF is the most attractive school to invite and the Big East obviously could care less about ECU or their history if they’d gladly bump up a small 1-AA school with zero football interest, just for basketball scheduling. Many are saying that UCF could be the front runner over TCU, actually. TCU isn’t jumping that fast. ECU has a good fanbase, as of late. But hasn’t always been until recently. Still better than most CUSA…UCF is just behind ECU this year and averaged more than ECU in attendance in 2007. ECU can’t go on claiming they’re some national branch. They’re not even close. UCF is getting 35-40k average butts in seats in CUSA. I’m sure they’ll do just fine in a BCS conference…especially with their arch rival in the same league. Sorry ECU was out of the talks a while ago and Holland’s speach was just another white flag to save himself some grief from the fanbase. Those close to the Big East have already said that ECU is toast and out of the conversation. As much as they grasp…it’s just at straws.

    1. I really don’t understand the arguments against my Pirates. Quality facilities….quality programs…football, baseball, women’s softball, track and field, swimming and lately women’s basketball. Would the Big East be anything without WVU, PITT and U of L in football year in and year out? Doubtful. Give up the ghost with your basketball conference dreams and form a 12 team Power Conference in ALL sports that is regionally driven and it could compete with anyone in any sport…PERIOD. Build the rivalries that can compete with the SEC
      rivalries in football and the ACC in basketball and the BIG EAST could reign supreme along the entire eastern seaboard. A makeshift football conference and an entirely different makeshift basketball conference IS NOT the answer. ECU would benefit tremendously from joining the BIG EAST, no question but make no mistake ECU brings a lot to the table, period.

    2. UCF is ranked #62 in average attendance with 39,180. ECU is ranked #44 with 49,672 and UCF has one more home game thus far. ECU has Navy at home this weekend. Also might I add that ECU is ranked #27 in the NCAA this year in attendance sorted by percent of capacity 99.34 while UCF is ranked #56 with 88.45%

      1. The attendance for 2007 which I guess came out February 4, 2008. UCF 44,018. ECU 41,537. UCF had 7 home games ECU had 6.

        1. 2007 was the year UCF won conference championship. ECU brat them that year 52-38 attendance was 42,777. ECU lost to Marshall and USM. ECU beat Boise State in Hawai’i Bowl with 30,467 attendance

          1. I’m assuming UCF had more seats as well than ECU that period. Looks like the last home game against Tulane hurt them in attendance 2007. UCF had 97% capacity and ECU had 96% that time

  26. ECU would be an excellent addition to the Big East! Incredible support in football (5-3 with 9 new defensive starters and one of the most exciting offenses in football). Their location and TV markets–as noted–are outstanding and would boost the Big East in ACC Country! Baseball is another plus. Basketball will escape its past under coach Jeff Lebo.

  27. In 2009 ECU had a total average attendance of 41,742. That put ECU at #3 in NON-BCS attendance leaders and #1 in conference USA. As of Oct. 31, 2010 ECU is 44th in the NCAA.

  28. ECU beats BCS teams on a regular basis, even with the unfair recruiting advantages and no BCS money. ECU added 7,000 seats to their football stadium during a recession! Look it up, ECU and VA Tech were equals, then Va Tech got in a BCS conference, and the rest is history. The Pirate Nation will sell out games and support their team, BCS or not. If we ever get in a BCS conference the stadium will be 60,000 plus and still sold out and rocking. ECU + BCS conference=powerhouse program.

  29. How far is Tampa from Orlando? Do they have a team in the Big East Covering NC and Some of VA? look no further than what Holland had to say.

  30. The USF vs. Rutgers game just finnished on ESPN2. There wasn’t even 30k fans in that stadium. Now there is what you get in a BIG TV Market. That program still doesn’t have a good fan base. From what I saw there wasn’t any fan passion mixed with traditional cheering etc. to be seen. Pathetic. That is also what you get when you manufacture a football program instead of having it grow naturally. That program’s fans haven’t even had to cough up contributions to build and sustain their own football stadium. When you have to do that you also have an investment from the fan base itself. They will attend even when a season is not going so well. UCF still has a long way to go to really support their own program. USF seems to not be their despite bing in the B.E. That is something ECU already has behind them. It is the Big East best choice by far if they want to add a real established football program capable of year in and year support.

  31. Getting to Greenville is like getting to Hattiesburg except you don’t get to go through New Orleans.

  32. Don’t see how there can be any doubt left that ECU is a great fit for the Big East. With a little more exposure I have no doubt that they’ll be right at the top of the standings year in and year out.

    Look at the teams we’ve beaten lately and in the past. Look at our rich history. Look at our facilities, market, and town. Most importantly, look at our fans. They are really the best of the best

    ECU vs. Skip Holtz and USF would be awesome… The WV vs. ECU game is always great. Cincy and Loui used to be a great match up every year too.

    Imagine if Chris Johnson had played in the Big East…. Dont miss your chance again like you did when you passed us up for Louisville Cincy and USF!

  33. For the BIG EAST fans that weren’t privy to watch the ECU UCF game on television that keep harping on UCF’s attendance, they tried to sellout the 43000 seat stadium for the showdown and sold a respectable 40700….the trouble is ONLY 25000 showed up and about 1500 were Pirates. Granted UCF won the game but your attendance argument is weak.

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