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ECU football team ready for attention

GREENVILLE East Carolina long has lived in the shadows of Duke, N.C. State and North Carolina, but as the Pirates prepare to join the American Athletic Conference they feel as if it’s their time to step into the light.

“I think the nation is going to get a chance to get to know who the Pirates are,” ECU athletic director Jeff Compher said. “They are going to get a chance to see what our fan base is all about.

“When we talk about passion and being undaunted, they will get a firsthand look at it from a national perspective. The exposure aspect, not just for football, but for basketball, men’s and women’s, is incredible and that’s what we’re looking for.”

After years of courting the Big East Conference, East Carolina was finally admitted as a football-only member in March 2012. However, the conference was dismantled when the “Catholic Seven” departed and took the Big East name with them.

Shortly after, the remaining schools branded themselves the American Athletic Conference and in March 2013 added ECU as an all-sports member, which will take effect July 1.

The Pirates will enter their rookie year in the AAC with fellow former Conference USA members Tulane and Tulsa, and will join Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, SMU, South Florida and Temple.

On Tuesday, AAC commissioner Mike Aresco held a news conference inside ECU’s Harvey Hall to welcome its newest member and said that while the conference’s television deal with ESPN and CBS no doubt will help boost the Pirates’ profile, the addition of ECU is mutually beneficial.

“(The Pirates) bring a great football program,” Aresco said. “They bring a university that is widely respected; a terrific university. They bring a sports department that is extremely well run.

“They will bring energy and enthusiasm. The kind of fan interest that you want in your conference and people are going to see. I think they bring a great deal to the conference.”

The Pirates jumped ship from Conference USA, which it joined as a football-only member in 1997 before becoming a full member in 2001.

East Carolina’s move into the AAC is no doubt a step in the right direction for the school’s battle to keep up with the elite of college athletics, Aresco said.

“This is a great university in all respects, and it’s also an important university in the state of North Carolina for the economy and the greater region as well, and now it’s going to have a national reputation in athletics by virtue of its membership in our conference and the incredible TV exposure it’s going to get,” Aresco said. “Now they are going to get the attention and exposure that this university has long deserved.

“We have a great TV arrangement in the American Athletic Conference. All the (football) games are going to be on ESPN platforms, with some on CBS Sports Network platforms and some on ABC.”

In its first year of existence, the AAC shined in football as Central Florida topped Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl to end the season ranked 10th in the final AP Poll; in the spring, UConn’s men’s and women’s basketball teams won national championships.

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