East Carolina chancellor Steve Ballard gave the school's State of the University address Tuesday, during which he commented on the coming joint venture between the Mountain West and Conference USA. Ballard described the new conference as having four divisions, with ECU hopefully picking up Charlotte as a local rival.
Charlotte has reportedly been invited. A four-division arrangement could mean anywhere from four to six teams in each group, which could all set up a semifinal round within the conference or whatever it is.
As you know, we are working on the possibility of a new athletic conference, which at some point would merge the old Conference USA with the Mt. West conference. This merger touches some raw nerves in the Pirate Nation because, quite frankly, we have never received the national respect that we have earned on the playing fields. But we should all remember this: Bad decisions made externally only means that there are bad decision-makers out there.
Unfortunately, the way athletic conferences choose new members is no longer a rational process. As one commissioner said to me, "We no longer have athletic conferences, we only have TV partnerships." Because of the overwhelming influence that large TV contracts now have on college sports, ECU does not control and indeed can barely influence the factors that dictate conference alignment. As the author Meg Wheately said, "IN THIS ENVIRONMENT, IF YOU'RE NOT CONFUSED, YOU'RE NOT THINKING CLEARLY."
So here is where we stand in terms of a new conference.
First, if this merger is successful, it could be stronger than the old CUSA and it will probably be more stable.
Second, members of the new conference recognize the importance of regional rivalries; they are committed to adding more teams with the goal of ensuring 4 divisions of geographical proximity. We look forward to playing long-time rivals such as Marshall and Southern Miss and to adding several eastern universities to our schedule. Hopefully, one will be Charlotte.