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Big East Expansion: "Unlikely for ECU"

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Big East unlikely for ECU

Caulton Tudor, Staff Writer

Connecticut football coach Randy Edsall wants the Big East Conference to add a ninth football-playing school. So does new West Virginia coach Bill Stewart.

League commissioner Michael Tranghese says some other football coaches in the conference favor the idea, too.

On the surface, it sounds like potentially sweet music for the many East Carolina fans who yearn to see the Pirates someday move from Conference USA to the Big East, which is at eight teams for football but 16 teams in basketball.

But in this case and for the near future, this isn't music at all. It's a false echo.

"I know there's a lot of talk about it, but we are not going to add a 17th team. It is just not going to happen," Tranghese told me. "There's no interest whatsoever in taking that path among our conference presidents. I understand where our football coaches are coming from, and I know they have a problem."

That problem is scheduling in the new era of 12-game regular seasons. In their eight-team football league, Big East coaches and athletic directors are forced to find five nonconference opponents each season. That's one more than teams in other Bowl Championship Series leagues.

But the bigger scheduling problem in the Big East is the mismatched conference rotation that forces some members to play four league road games and only three home league games each season.

"That's the real driving force behind our coaches' stances on expansion," Tranghese said. "Obviously, it would be much better for everyone to have four home and four away conference games each season. But it's not such a problem that we need to add another school to fix it."

In a perfect world for the Big East, Notre Dame would solve the dilemma by joining ranks in football. The Irish compete for Big East titles in other sports but have steadfastly remained independent in football.

"I don't see that situation changing for a very long time, if ever," Tranghese said. "Notre Dame's tradition and legacy is that of playing football as an independent. ... As much as we would like to have them aboard in football, I don't see it happening."

For years, there's been widespread speculation that if Notre Dame ever joined a conference for all sports, it would be the Big Ten and not the Big East. Should that ever happen, the Big East would be left with an opening. Among the logical candidates would be Memphis, East Carolina and perhaps Central Florida.

And for what it's worth, Tranghese speaks highly of ECU and Pirates athletic director Terry Holland.

"It's a tremendous school, and Terry and I have been good friends for many, many years," Tranghese said. "ECU's reputation for playing excellent football and having lots of fans that back the team on the road is well-established. The schools in our league have always been extremely impressed by the program there. You can't say enough about the job Skip Holtz has done. But still, that doesn't change the fact that we aren't going to go to 17."

Long term, ECU's best hope for getting into the Big East picture could hinge on the league's continued success in football. The more successful and influential Big East football coaches become, the more likely they are to be able to exert pressure on Notre Dame to find another league for basketball and other sports -- or join the mix in football.

That, of course, could take many years to come about. But at the same time, Big East football has emerged as a significant national force. Because of a big improvement at Rutgers and South Florida's emergence as a top-25 contender, football is flourishing. It didn't help that Michigan lured Rich Rodriguez away from West Virginia, but Pittsburgh is beginning to improve again and Edsall's Connecticut's teams are consistently competitive.

"Our football is on a solid foundation, and I think we'll continue to more than hold our own. The fan interest level is exceptionally high," Tranghese said.

The Pirates have no choice except to maintain a wait-and-hope posture while remaining visible and competitive in the Conference USA football race. If a Big East opening ever occurs, football will be the decisive factor in adding a new team. It won't be about men's basketball, women's basketball or any other sport. The Big East already has basketball powers galore, but the scheduling need for a ninth football member will remain an issue.


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Great article.  Despite all the message board chatter and speculation, expansion is not going to happen.  Too bad for ECU, Memphis and UCF.

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Big East unlikely for ECU

In other news, Scarlett Johansson is still unlikely to date me.

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