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Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Q&A: ECU athletic director Terry Holland


East Carolina already has submitted its application to the Big East, which is now looking to add members with the departures of Pitt and Syracuse.

The Pirates already have a Web pitch for why they should be in an automatic qualifying conference, making their intentions well known.

I had a chance to catch up with Pirates athletic director Terry Holland today via email, and here is a little of what he had to say about his program, what it brings to the table and why it would make a good fit in the Big East.

What have you heard from the Big East about future membership opportunities? How quickly do they want to add teams? How many do they want to add?

Terry Holland:I am not aware of any timeline or the targeted number of new members. It would seem to me that with all the talk about 16 team "super" conferences that there could be some safety in numbers by increasing membership to 12 or even 16 in order for all conferences to preserve their qualification status.

Are there assurances that the Big East will be able to retain its AQ status moving forward? If not, why is the Big East a better landing spot than Conference USA?

TH: Clearly, we are currently in a fluid, ever-changing environment and nothing can be guaranteed or assured. We love everyone in C-USA and appreciate the opportunities that it affords but if we can move to a conference with all teams in the Eastern time zone, we would have to seriously consider such a move for the welfare of our student-athletes.

We have asked C-USA to consider creative scheduling alternatives that would mitigate the current wear and tear as well as the missed class time for our student-athletes, but the membership has not been able to agree on alternative scheduling concepts, even when we have offered to be the "guinea pig."

What have you done to be proactive in getting ECU onto a more national stage?

TH: ECU and the members of the Pirate Nation have created one of the best game-day environments in college football as well as a welcoming and hospitable atmosphere that can be intimidating just from the noise level.

ECU has worked diligently to "control the things we can control." For example, our nonconference schedule is as good as any in the country, our facilities have been improved for most of our sports and the football stadium has been expanded to seat 50,000 to meet the ticket demand for a program that has captured two of the last three Conference USA titles and advanced to five straight bowl games.

ECU currently ranks 44th in NCAA attendance statistics, which puts us close to the top one-third nationally among all FBS programs. We have led Conference USA in average attendance for the last three consecutive years and also currently lead all non-AQ conference members nationally.

ECU draws television "eyeballs" throughout the Mid-Atlantic region with rankings comparable to those of regional institutions in conferences with automatic qualification to BCS bowl games. A more regional conference schedule in a conference with automatic qualification would allow us to build on that base, just as Virginia Tech was able to do back in the early '90s when they were invited into the Big East.

What does ECU add to the national conversation?

TH: Our game-day atmosphere and passionate fan base has often been compared to SEC environments and those at other nationally recognized programs. We are also labeled a football school in a basketball-dominated state, which makes us unique.

Is the notion of super-conferences good for college football? What direction do you see college football headed?

TH: I believe the 16-team conference format is better and will soon be more popular than the 12-team format currently favored in most conferences. However, I do not support the idea of fewer opportunities for football student-athletes by limiting those to only four conferences.

Why is the 16-team model better?

TH: The 12-team format allows the divisional championship to be determined by what can be unequal schedule strength for games played against the other division.   In other words, ECU could go 5-0 vs. its East Division opponents and then go 0-3 against the toughest teams in the West Division (5-3 overall) while one of the teams we defeated goes 3-2 against the East teams but 3-0 against easiest West teams (6-2 overall) and wins the East Division, taking our place in the championship game.

In a 16-team format in the Big 12 (just for example), every team would play seven full round-robin games against their divisional opponents and one game against a team from the other division.  The game against the other division would not count toward the divisional championship.

Let's say that Texas is 6-1 in their division and Oklahoma is 6-1 in the West division. OU and UT then play each other even though in different divisions (Can be a permanent "crossover game" -- same team every year if Texas and Oklahoma need to play each other or it can be a rotating "crossover game" -- against a different opponent every year).  Even if Texas loses, they would still be the divisional champion and the two teams would play each other for the conference championship.

This provides seven annual permanent games that can be developed into excellent rivalries and the eighth game can be a permanent crossover game so that it can also be developed into a good rivalry game.  In a 12-team conference there are only the five divisional games that are played every year so it's harder to develop rivalries when your fans only see the six west teams once every four years (three teams each year).


Here is the official joint statement from ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard and Holland confirming the Big East application:

“East Carolina University will always maintain a proactive approach in regards to positioning itself for future success, and the fluidity of current conference realignment possibilities is no exception. While we have formalized our interest in Big East Conference membership as a viable option, ECU will remain focused on competing at the highest level through the efforts of Conference USA.”