American Conference Commissioner Aresco visits East Carolina - WNCN: News, Weather

American Conference Commissioner Aresco visits East Carolina

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - One week prior to East Carolina University officially becoming ­a member of the American Athletic Conference on July 1, Commissioner Mike Aresco was on campus Tuesday to speak and answer questions about ECU’s impact and the future landscape of the league. Below are select comments by Aresco during today’s press conference.

Opening Statement:
“I can’t say enough about the leadership of Jeff (Compher) and Dr. Ballard here at East Carolina. They have taken this university to new heights. Jeff is already one of my trusted advisors, counselors and friends. Conference realignment can be a little awkward because you’re in one conference, but you’re in another and your mind is somewhere else, so it has to be managed in a way. One of the things we tried to do in our conference was take the high road at all times when people left and when people came in and I think we’ve done that. I think it has really helped us establish our conference as a brand.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled and delighted to welcome East Carolina to the American Athletic Conference, as they officially join July 1. This is a great university in all respects. It’s also an important university for the state of North Carolina, the economy and the greater region as well. Now, it is going to have a national reputation in athletics by virtue of its membership in our conference and the incredible TV exposure it is going to get.

Its outstanding athletic programs, which it has had over the years and are only going to get better under Jeff’s stewardship, will now get the attention and the exposure that this university has long deserved. We have a great TV arrangement in the American Athletic Conference. All of the (football) games, virtually, are going to be on ESPN platforms with some on CBS Sports Network platforms and some on ABC. We have three guaranteed ABC appearances in football.

Jeff alluded to my history with East Carolina University, and years ago, when Dave Hart was the Athletics Director here, I visited and got to know Dave and the university and realized that there was something special going on here. It was very evident to me. This is a great place with rabid fans and exciting teams. It had the kind of atmosphere that I saw when programming football for the SEC. It’s that kind of real identification with the teams.

Back in 1991, I recommended to the management at ESPN that we do a deal with East Carolina, which was an independent at the time, for all six of their football games nationally on ESPN. We did a five-year deal from 1991-96, and then East Carolina joined Conference USA during that period, but the deal stayed in place and it was great exposure for the university.

This conference is marked by great football and basketball coaches, and also our coaches in Olympic sports. We’ve done very well in Olympics sports and we don’t want to neglect those.

It’s been a storybook year for us. It’s been a remarkable inaugural season. We won the Fiesta Bowl, won the men and women’s basketball national championships, were in the finals of the NIT, won the women’s NIT and had a team in the College World Series. That’s a pretty high bar. I said to a reporter, and I was joking, but we don’t want to reach our high watermark in our first year so we really have to wrap up and be really good in everything, and I think we will.

I don’t want to get meta-physical, but this conference is born of an idea of teams challenging and competing, and there is no question that these teams have that ethic and this conference has that ethic. What you are going to see is what you saw in the old BIG EAST: programs coming in that will raise their level and profile. To this day, Frank Beamer says Virginia Tech never could have done what it did without having membership in the BIG EAST. A program like this is already in place; it just needs to be discovered.

In the future, we only have a six-year deal with football and basketball. We expect to sit down with ESPN down the road and talk about that. We think our performance this year is key.

You have heard a lot about NCAA governance, the governance re-design process, the “Power Five”, the “Equity Five”, the “High-Resource Five” and a lot of the different names they are called. We are knocking on that door. We look at it as five plus one. We think that down the road there will be six. We have six teams in our league that once played in either a BCS Conference or the old Southwest Conference, which was the equivalent. We also have the best of Conference USA coming into our conference to elevate their programs, so that’s a pretty powerful combination. There is a powerful dynamic at work here. This is going to be a terrific conference. I’m very excited about this.”

If he is in favor of NCAA Division I breaking apart:
“No, I wouldn’t. The one thing we are stressing is that there are 10 FBS football conference. What we are trying to do is define ourselves as members of that group in that room, but on the other hand there is a branding of the so-called “Power Five” which is the schools and conferences that have the most resources and largest TV deals. What we are saying is we are close to them and we want to be in that group. In the end, I think in the new re-design of the NCAA, those schools will have a certain level of autonomy and the ability to pass certain kinds of legislation, that legislation will be permissive, meaning we can do it, too. We’re not going to take a back seat to anyone. We’re not going to be second to anyone. I think in the end, we will maintain our competitive position, as long as scholarship limits remain, and I think they will, the same and transfer rules will get worked out. I think we’re in a good place.”

If he sees East Carolina making an immediate impact in its first year, particularly in football:
“I absolutely do. If you had to handicap our league, and it’s early, but we think Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and East Carolina will clearly be among our top teams. We also have some teams that are rebuilding and teams that are on the cusp. Our league was tough top-to-bottom. Our bottom teams didn’t win a lot of games but they were competitive. USF went up to Michigan State and almost won, and they didn’t even have a quarterback at the time. ECU has a wonderful quarterback in Shane Carden who is a veteran, has already graduated and is a leader. You have a wide receiver who could be a candidate for All-America honors. I don’t want to jinx anyone, but these are terrific young men. You have a great team and Ruffin McNeill who is a great coach. Everything is in place.”

On what the greatest challenge is for the league entering its second year:
“Perception. We are going to have to make sure that people see that there is continued progress. We want some of our weaker teams to get stronger. We want attendance to improve. We have some schools where attendance is incredible and others who struggle a little bit. We think that will change with new teams coming in. Perception creates reality sometimes. As some of this autonomy comes into place, it’s not as though there is officially five FBS (conferences) and then all the others. We are one of 10 FBS conference, but there is still a group of five that is going to get a lot of attention. We fight hard to make sure the blogs, reporters and network partners cover us. We are going to have to be vigilant about the autonomy legislation that is going to be passed and make sure our schools step up and do the things that the other schools are doing for student-athletes. We don’t want to be lagging in that area. We want to make sure that our APR, our academic profile is really good and I think it will be. I’m not suggesting, in any way, that this going to be a walk in the park, but if you’re smart, you recruit well and spend your money wisely; I believe you can do it. I really do. The one thing I do is pride everyone to make sure we are doing everything we can do. It’s a media-driven world. We have to make sure our media message is on point and we have to be relentless about it. It takes time.”

On what East Carolina brings to The American:
“They bring a great football program and a university that is widely respected. They bring a sports department that is extremely well run. They will bring energy, enthusiasm and the kind of fan interest that you want in your conference. I think they’re going to bring a great deal to the conference and I don’t think there is any question about it. The country is going to discover ECU in a way that it hasn’t.”

On concerns of the small size of ECU’s media market:
“I don’t think it’s as important as it is developing competitiveness and making a mark nationally. We have national television exposure. In college football for instance, look at Knoxville (Tenn.), Birmingham (Ala.), Blacksburg (Va.) and Norman, Oklahoma. College sports are different. It’s regional, but also national. It’s up to us. We have to win. This conference is going to get enough exposure nationally to be judged on how it does.”

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