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Preparing for Life after the Big East Shuts the Door on Us

Well, the tea leaves are not looking all that good for the Pirates in this whole Big East thing. If Boise State takes the bait and goes to that league, they will solidify the league’s AQ status and ECU will be left in the barren wastelands of the left outs.

The Boise State Plan included an intense marketing effort which included the infamous Blue Turf

[ Please forgive me, but this one is a LONG one ]

After enduring all the laughs coming from the likes of UCF and in-state, non-supportive sister universities, we will have to, once again, set our football course. What will that look like and how will we go forward?

I still say that we need to model ourselves after Boise State. Ask yourself, how does the “other” school in a remote state like Idaho, seemingly pull together top talent and sustain so much success on the field? How is it that they are not cast in the directional school box?

Well, you needn’t look to far as some of BSU’s formula was employed by ECU just after we failed to get into the Big East during Dave Hart’s stint as AD.

One of the big components of BSU’s rise to stardom was ESPN. The Broncos have enjoyed a stellar relationship with College Football’s dominant network since they were part of the blah WAC, just as the Pirates enjoyed our own exclusive ESPN contract backthen, which were pretty good years for the Pirates.

BSU simply did a better job of it than we did. Their formula was pretty sound and it is one we can repeat, honestly. See if this follows.

1. We get left out of the BE and are left in a merged MWC and CUSA league whose prime teams are…ECU, Tulsa, USM, Nevada and Colorado State.

2. With 22-some teams, the TV opportunities will be there and yes, we will have to play on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, but we will get exposure again, nationally.

3. We water down our OOC schedule. See on thing Boise State did for years, was pile up wins against a weak, weak, schedule. And face it, call it luck or call it a chip, but the few times they played a real team, they found a way to win.

4. Sacrifice attendance for victories. I know, it shouldn’t be this way, but if the Pirates could win that league 3 or 4 years in a row with only a loss or two each season, we would be the BSU of the future. We would get bigger recruits and we would get exclusive ins to the BCS suite, just as BSU has.

This was their basic formula. Win a slew of easy games, prepare for the one or two big ones you have every two or three years and win them. Market the hell out of your program. Take whatever TV opportunities you get.

We took another path. When we had the ESPN contract, we put anyone, anywhere on our schedule and we took our lumps. It got us exposure, but it also got us a lot of losses. You can only be an upstart for so long before the media changes your personality into a team that takes it lumps from the big guy but gives it a good effort.

Now, what do we need to implement the BSU plan? That is a little tricky.

There are three components to it, and I am not sure that the Pirates have all three at the moment, but here goes:

1. A fierce and seasoned leader or leaders. Between Ballard and Holland, this is a resounding checkmark in the “got it” category, if they are willing to take a new tack in our course. Holland, particularly, has the goods to set in motion a plan that would drastically change the W-L quotient via scheduling and the moxie to get a good TV deal done with ESPN either exclusively or via the merger. An outside-looking-in ECU, I think, would be something ESPN would once again go for. ESPN and ECU have had a good, mutually beneficial relationship over the years.

2. A coach who has an offensive and defensive philosophy that he knows like the back of his hand and has the ability to find top-50 talent in the rough to execute his schemes. This one, as much as I love Ruff, I am not sold that we have in place. Chris Petersen at BSU is a coach that knows how to execute what he wants to execute and knows EXACTLY what players he needs to execute it.

3. Marketing. We need a new marketing angle. Undaunted was nice and purposeful. We need more of that focused on the new world we are about to find ourselves in. Now, I am not for a purple field, but, I am for taking whatever TV we can get and for pushing every dollar we can get into branding ourselves beyond the Virginia-NC-South Carolina coastal footprint we have right now. We need to cross-leverage our academic strengths and our athletics and mine every corner of the country to find the right players.

It only takes a four-year run. In a weak conference where we are gearing every year for two games: Southern Miss and the Merger Championship. Every other game should be a cakewalk game. One we win in our sleep. IF we did this and ran that table with a, for example, 10 win, 10 win, 11-win, 12-win stretch, while enduring the label of “having not played anyone,” I promise you the national TV opportunities would exponentially increase and our access to players would increase. By year five, we would be the new BSU, only we would have a deeper national brand because ECU is already known. Of course, we would have to win the bowl games and that is where some luck is needed. If you look back, BSU for all of its strategic maneuvering, has gotten its share of serendipity. But, that is part of the formula.

We need to implement this approach. We tried the anyone, anywhere, anytime and it served us well, but the BCS has taught us that these are not the things that are valued.

9 comments on “Preparing for Life after the Big East Shuts the Door on Us

  1. It’s hard for me to feel too victimized. If we won as much as Boise State, this wouldn’t be an issue. Or maybe we just need blue astro-turf.

    • I understand that sentiment and agree with the idea that fair or unfair, in the current system, all that matters are wins. You get enough of them no matter how you play, you become a factor.

      Purple turf…doesn’t work for me, though. What price glory?

  2. Apart from BSU, its obvious the only real consideration was TV market which we cannot really control. I will go down to Greenville, buy a load of ECU gear at UBE, eat at Cubbies and enjoy the game whether we are playing Va Tech or Wofford. Unfortunately, to sell 50K tickets each week, we’ll have to play the tough schedule won’t we? How much revenue can we stand to lose if we weaken the schedule? Does anyone know if this approach is even on the table?

    • I don’t think Coach Holland would go that route. I prefer to play the regional brand teams, though I would also plunk down money despite who we play. You are dead on about attendance, IMO. Without the big brand names coming to DFS each year – something we have worked hard to achieve – the sellouts would all but disappear.

      And, you are so right about lost revenue, unless we could make it up with another exclusive ESPN deal or if the merger can garner a big TV contract (though divided 22 ways, it better be a BIG contract).

  3. I used to be totally against the Boise State philosophy, but the latest movement in conference expansion has proven to me that this thing is all about the number of wins and not who you play and lose to. Seeing that attendance doesn’t seem to matter one bit either when expansion candidates are being looked at, makes me accept the fact much easier that we could lose a few thousand fans by playing a weaker schedule. Although, I still think we would be able to draw 47-48K a game if we were playing a Louisiana Tech at home in the midst of a few 10-11 win seasons.

    In the long run it could pay off when we get to a BCS league and are packing the stadium week-in and week-out once again, but also getting much more national exposure.

    Right now, this appears to be the only way to overcome our market problem that is holding us back from moving up the ladder.

    • Hi Stephen…thanks for dropping in! I, too, was totally against that philosophy, but it sure has worked for BSU. On your point about attendance, how sad is it that Houston, being one of the BE targets, was actually bragging about putting 30,000 a game in their stadium and what a marker of success and future success that is. What a sham college football has become.

      Worse is the fact the BCS will change its scheme to ensure fewer hands are in the virtual till anways, so what is a program to do?

      I hadn’t thought about your point in regards to attendance. I figured attendance would wane with a watered down schedule, but if we were constantly coming out of the gates undefeated each year, maybe the drop off early in the season would be tolerable followed by packed houses as we tried to run the table each year. Something to consider.

  4. RC,
    I’m a HUGE fan of you work and have been for many, many years. I usually lay back in the shadows but the scheduling topic is my bread & butter issue, and I have gone point/counterpoint on a couple of the blogs out there more times than I like to admit. The BSU model is a recipe for mediocrity IMHO and I’ll try to summarize as follows;

    1+0+0 does not equal 3. Let me explain. The BSU model is really three pronged – a weak schedule AND 30 point wins in conference AND by the way, you can only lose one game a season. A bunch of d1 teams have a weak schedule but don’t come through on the crushing conference wins and near undefeated seasons. And know what? They are left sucking crumbs with everyone else and drift into mediocrity. A couple years of that and attendance will drop, and the morale of the program could migrate towards the ditch.

    I think a slight tweaking of the TH model/morphing of the 1990s approach is the course we need to take. Win whatever conference we’re in, swallow that WTH conference game each year, play 3 solid AQ OOC teams a year and maybe a mid major cupcake. Go 10-2, 9-3, or even 8-4 – we’ll have a better chance of cracking the top 25, keep our unique traditional image, and continue to piqué the interest of the fanbase (from John Q. ECU fan to the diehards). Again, just one man’s opinion here – nothing more/nothing less.

    • Hey…first…thanks so much for dropping in over here.

      I have read with great interest your post as well as several others on Stephen’s site. Awesome discussion going on over there. I definitely appreciate your POV and really, I should probably clarify that I am not sure which approach would be best. Your approach stays true to our roots which is very, very important. The Boise approach was perfect given the current climate of the BCS rigged system. Meaning, IMO, that BSU has the perfect formula to become accepted by the puppetmasters. It may all be moot when the BCS readjusts in 2013-14 because they do whatever is going to fit what they want anyway. My post was to throw out that thought to see what everyone thinks.

      One thing about the BSU history is that between Dan Hawkins and Chris Petersen, they have had two very special coaches who really know their thing and what it takes to execute it. Also, they benefit from having only one in-state school to compete against and a bad one at that. And, let’s face it, they have had a whopping share of good luck, which cannot be programmed into any scheduling plan.

      I could go for what you are proposing…I think that would give us a chance to get there (wherever there is in the future) and I do like playing VaTech, WVU, USC, etc. BTW, I truly believe that BSU’s star will steadily fall once they join the BE, if that happens. They need to stay right where they are, IMO.

  5. Thanks RC,
    Appreciate your response (and then some) – sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. This re-alignment mess is driving me to drinking – I was almost ready to drive up to Providence last week to straighten those BE administrators out myself, but my wife got hold of me before I took the keys. Just kidding of course, but it will drive you insane. I’m still on the fence really concerning the MWC/CUSA merger as well – applaud CUSA for being proactive, but not sure what the end result will look like (lots of cooks in the kitchen) and there are precious few schools out of the 22 that are east of the Mississippi. We’ll see…

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