USF has all but announced it wants little to do with UCF, and could try to block the Knights' entry into the Big East. But USF may have to set that aside to preserve the Big East, theoretically.
The Pirates have won two straight Conference USA titles, nearly sold out the 2009 season and is expanding Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to 50,000 seats. They take on all comers in their nonconference schedule.
As former ECU athletic director Hamrick happily points out, newly constructed facilities are everywhere. The baseball stadium is splendid, and that program will boost any conference's portfolio in that sport.
Defining the Pirates' fan base to the outside world (i.e., college presidents) may be a challenge. The Greenville-New Bern-Washington TV market is just outside the top 100, though ECU can deliver a slice of the Raleigh-Durham market and has a nice alumni presence in Charlotte.
Pirate fans should root for basketball to be a non-factor, because that's what they are on the hardwood. John Wooden in his prime probably couldn't raise this program to the middle of the C-USA pack.
When the Big 12 formed in the early 1990s, the Cougars were sledding through hard times on the gridiron and Baylor grad Ann Richards was governor of Texas. 'Nuff said.
They could be a Big 12 candidate in a pinch, and they're plunked in a top-10 TV market. But it's a commuter school buried in that city's sports landscape, and the Cougars are happy to draw 20,000 in its dungeonesque Robertson Stadium.
Four straight losing football seasons didn't help. Some fans blame Hamrick's predecessor, Bob Marcum, or perceived anti-athletics sentiment in the president's office, be it from Dan Angel or current leader Stephen Kopp.
The rise in conference had to be a factor. Football wins became a little tougher against public schools that were more financially committed, as well as the four private schools that have shown they can raise and spend bushels of greenbacks.
"We're trying to get our financial in order, trying to become competitive again in football," Hamrick said. "Trying to become competitive consistently in basketball, trying to do what we can do to upgrade our facilities and add new facilities.
"It's kind of like when you're on the market, we're trying to be as attractive as we can be."
The big needs, facility-wise, have been identified as a baseball field, an indoor practice building and a new track, ideally at about the same time. Other needs are simpler to define, if not achieve - a few more donors, a few more season-ticket buyers, a few more wins.
"We've got to sell 19,000 season tickets instead of 10,000," Hamrick said. "We've got to have 8,000 in the Henderson Center instead of 3,000 or 4,000."
Marshall does have its positives, particularly when things are going well in football.
Its TV market is 63rd, just smaller than C-USA rival Tulsa. In the Herd's best years, fans traveled in good number to road and bowl games. The Herd seemed to delight bowl executives with solid TV ratings.
Whether the Herd can recapture that reputation before the next realignment is a tough, tough call. It may be to Hamrick's advantage if the Big Ten dawdles past its current timetable, early or mid-2011.
But really, he cannot fret about it.
"I sit up at night worrying about the next season ticket," he said. "The next contributor. The next facility. Winning the next game. We do all that, we'll look better for conference realignment.
"But we've got a long way to go."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.