What’s the harm in trying?

Published 10:23 am Monday, August 1, 2016

I learned as a kid about ‘playing the dozens’. Some ‘new-school’ people call it ‘snaps’; where you try to top your opponent with insults and put-downs.

I’m probably also the world’s worst gambler, but now there’s something lately I do want to bet on: East Carolina University’s chances of gaining admission into the Big 12 athletic conference.

Twelve, you know, like in ‘dozens’.

What follows is a ‘put-up’ rather than a ‘put-down’.

From an independent back in the 1930’s, to the old North State Conference, thru the Southern Conference, back to Independent, to Conference-USA, and now the AAC (that’s two A’s and one C, not the other way around as Wolfpack fans remind me!); conference-wise, ECU is well-traveled.

A lot of ‘stuffed shirts’ scoffed when “li’l ol’ EC-TC” left the snugness of some of those old leagues, but nobody’s laughing now.

Just this past week, both the state’s gubernatorial candidates announced they are supporting ECU’s bid for membership.

Both Gov. Pat McCrory and his challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper, sent letters to conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby supporting ECU; and both wrote in their official capacities, not as political candidates – but face it, it’s election season.

Bowlsby announced on Thursday that the conference wants to expand from the current 10 teams. One time it actually had 12 members, but after a number of teams departed and others joined they went from “X-I-I” to just “X”. Now, every league wants a bigger piece of the TV pie and how better to get it than with your own network, snuggled up against a conference football championship to go with book-end basketball and baseball title series’.

Not long after hearing the big announcement, phones starting ringing in Greenville – beginning with Mayor Allen Thomas calling on the state’s politicos to get on the Pirate-Big12 train.

McCrory’s letter stressed the large Pirate fan base and significant Greenville-Washington-New Bern television market.

“East Carolina University is positioned both institutionally and athletically to be a successful and valuable member of the Big 12 Conference,” McCrory wrote. “East Carolina University follows in that rich tradition and is prepared to strengthen that legacy.”

Okay, maybe McCrory’s trying to recover from seeing the state lose the NBA All-Star Game because of HB2; not to mention the ‘tens of millions’ in cash that got slam-dunked with that call.

Cooper highlighted the benefits to the state.

“Academically, ECU is an institution of higher education with nationally recognized undergraduate, graduate, and medical programs,” the Attorney General wrote. “It is a critical component of the crown jewel of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina’s higher education system.”

Thanks to Coach Cliff Godwin and company, ECU has a better-than-decent baseball program that this year reached the NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals. They posted 40-win seasons twice in the last six years and were a game away from the College World Series back in June.

Even though Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium seats 50,000 people, and the Pirates’ record in football doesn’t blow anybody out of the water, fans still support the team in humongous numbers. ECU topped the AAC in attendance last year with 44,786 fans per home game. The rest of the conference averaged just over 29,000.

They also lead the league in number of donors (16,828) and annual donations ($7.768 million).

Still, this is basically a beauty contest and other AAC league schools like UConn, Temple, South Florida, Central Florida, and even Cincinnati have more ‘sizzle’.

Geography, for one? West Virginia would make a nice rivalry, even though the Pirates are 3-18 lifetime against the Mountaineers on the gridiron. But, hey, I’m still waiting for Big-10 football powerhouse Maryland to take down Ohio State.

Geography 2, trips to the Southwest? They play Tulsa, SMU, and Houston on the road already! Lubbock, Austin, and Waco aren’t that much further; you neither, Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Those Pirates may be a long shot, but there’s another old saying: shooters shoot. Besides, what’s the harm in trying?


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.