Current conference: Conference USA
US News ranking: 194 (among National Universities)
State flagship: No
Annual research dollars (in millions): ?
Endowment (in millions): $103
Enrollment sufficient? Yes
Enrollment: 27,816 students
Native designated market area: (105) Greenville
Additional media relevance claims: (28) Raleigh-Durham
Stadium capacity: 50,000*
2010 average attendance: 49,665
NFL competition for ticket sales: No
Arena capacity: 8000
2011 average attendance: 4566
NBA competition for ticket sales: No
Optimal AQ Home
Optimal conference: The Southeastern Conference, The Big East
Projected FB attendance there: 57,000 to start
Projected BB attendance there: ~6000 to start
East Carolina is a school that looks better and better as a candidate as you study them.
North Carolina is a state with an SEC-like love of football, but that love has never been fed. There are only two "football schools" in North Carolina—Appalachian State, an attendance leader at the FCS level, and East Carolina, an attendance leader at the non-AQ level.
East Carolina can be that school at the BCS AQ level.
They have been given permission to expand their stadium to 58,000, and that is merely the latest in an ongoing series of stadium expansions.
They have a large fan base and their students are consumed with football. Those students graduate and many move into the neighboring Raleigh-Durham area and across the state, where they continue to follow and support ECU football, watching the games live (and on TV) and buying the merchandise.
While North Carolina's and North Carolina State's stadiums have grown over the last 30 years, they do not match the speed of growth of East Carolina's football support. It is entirely possible that ECU in an AQ conference might match or surpass the football support either ACC school enjoys.
Lets talk about the longshot for ECU first.
The SEC has dramatically improved its academic profile with the addition of Texas A&M and impending addition of Missouri. It is questionable whether the SEC would consider adding a school that would be by far the lowest ranked in their conference, but the SEC is talking about new markets in their expansion and North Carolina is a populous neighboring state that is football crazy and produces a lot of football talent.
The SEC and ACC have a longstanding relationship. There is a thought among SEC fans that the SEC and ACC have already talked out the future of SEC expansion.
The logic pushed by a few SEC fans claiming to be in the know is that Florida State is going to eventually jump to the SEC, despite the presence of the University of Florida.
Florida is a huge state. The SEC could add a second team and it could still make financial sense in a TV setting.
The Seminoles are a national name brand in football with great TV value. They have a hot young coach who seems very rooted in the job. FSU seems poised to once more be a dominant team for the next decade.
So one can see how, despite the SEC's talk of "new territory," FSU might make sense for the SEC.
The idea is that the SEC has not already admitted to poaching FSU to allow the ACC every prestige advantage in raiding other conferences in the here and now.
(Now, it should also be noted that allegedly there is a three SEC school alliance—Florida, Georgia and South Carolina—sworn to jointly work together to block the admission of Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson in order to protect the their better football recruiting and fundraising positions afforded by SEC membership. The SEC fans' claim suggests the SEC has gotten beyond that and that Florida was the only dissenting vote in admitting FSU.)
If all of this is true, the likely second target of the SEC would be North Carolina State to add North Carolina for a contiguous footprint, rather than the frequently mentioned Virginia Tech.
But there are potential problems with the admission of either school.
Virginia Tech had to play state politics to get into the ACC. Will they really be allowed to leave their much more politically powerful and prestigous neighbor Virginia in the dust for a bigger paycheck? I am not convinced that will be easy or quick.
North Carolina State may also have no interest in leaving academic elites North Carolina and Duke behind. Those universities have very deeply intertwined relationships.
Which is the scenario where ECU could enter the SEC picture. Adding ECU would protect the ACC. ECU in the SEC would give the SEC statewide viewership. Where ECU football stands today is not far from where South Carolina football stood when they were admitted. They would likely quickly expand their stadium and fandom with SEC dollars coming in.
They could permanently take the title as the dominant football program in the state.
The real question of ECU's candidacy is academics. Does the SEC want to add a school that would be an academic knuckledragger at the AQ level?
Much less of a longshot for ECU would be admission to the Big East.
About 90 percent of AQ schools are ranked 140 or higher in the US News "National Universities" category (meaning they do some research and grant a number of doctorates.) ECU, while a fine university, clearly falls short there. This means any AQ conference that admits them will be seen as "slumming it" academically.
ECU has offered to join the Big East as a football-only member—a move that would do a lot to deflect AQ criticism at the Big East for adding a comparatively weak academic school.
It is a smart offer by ECU. A football-only membership to the Big East would likely bring in another $4-plus million in TV revenue each year to help fuel stadium upgrades. Playing on a larger stage would also help ECU grow their game-day fanbase.
That said, this article is about potential.
It could be a much smarter play by the Big East to take the "academic hit" and add ECU on terms—ECU would need to spend fairly big money on their football and basketball coaches. Paying their best coaches has always been a problem at ECU.
ECU is located in a state that is one of the nation's basketball hotbeds. They draw 5000 a game with an awful team in an average basketball conference.
A full membership in the Big East would probably yield ECU an added $8-plus million TV dollars. That would be more than enough to pay top dollar for a proven winner in the area. How would ECU look to the basketball-centric Big East if they had a solid and improving basketball program headed by a proven tournament coach with statewide credibility? (Perhaps former VCU coach Jeff Capel?)
I think that would be a very valuable TV asset for the Big East.
Should the BCS elite decide to do away with automatic qualifier status for conferences, the Big East may see a need to add a few more schools with better football attendances to secure alliances with bowls with larger payouts.
East Carolina would be at the top of that list.