Pirate football games at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium are 68 days from returning, assuming spikes in COVID-19 cases or another unforeseen development does not cause a delay or outright cancellation. With football so close to returning, it means students are that much closer to returning to campus to begin the fall semester.

At ECU, that means around 30,000 students — including the 100 or so involved with the football program — and staff will be flooding back into Greenville and the apartments and dorms that dot the campus and surrounding area.

In preparation for this, ECU on Monday began rolling out its “Master Plan” for reopening the campus and various athletic facilities. Contained in the document’s 19 pages are clear outlines for how everyday life at ECU will be conducted to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

Everything from guidance on face coverings to classroom sizes to operating instructions for the dining halls and dorms rooms is included in the living document that is expected to be updated with new information as August draws closer.

Also included in the guidance are expectations for athletic facilities that are to be met if sporting events — namely football — are to resume on time this fall. The document states the athletic department will begin operating in phases of reopening, something that has already started earlier this month with the resumption of voluntary workouts on campus.

After saying the department will continue to follow NCAA and American Athletic Conference guidelines and recommendations, there are seven requirements that must be met.

Those include:

  • Having adequate PPE, cleaning supplies, medical protocols and facility and operational guidelines in place.
  • Be able to to conduct daily operations while still using current CDS guidelines.
  • Test for COVID-19 when needed and appropriate.
  • Have quarantine and isolation protocols in place for ill or exposed student-athletes.
  • Establish appropriate protocols to protect individuals with increased vulnerability or at high risk of COVID complications.
  • Provide proper education and accommodations for staff, coaches and student-athletes.
  • Adapt with best practices to promote safety and emphasize healthy decision-making as they evolve, including demonstrate appropriate symptom monitoring and testing.

The document goes on to outline an “exception to the closure of entertainment and fitness facilities.” According to the document, sporting venues with a capacity of at least 500 and that are big enough and possess enough entrances and exits to comply with social distancing rules will be allowed to operate.

Under Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plans, venues are still not permitted to hold more than 10 people and more than 25 people are not allowed to gather outside.

According to ECU’s plan, however, “entertainers, performers, and athletes, along with coaches, training, support, and broadcast staff, shall not count toward the Mass Gathering limit.” Facilities personnel will also not be counted toward that number.

As recommended above, all venues and places of mass gatherings will be required to undergo increased sanitation and have signage that states new traffic flow patterns.

Roughly two months before the 2020 college football season is set to begin, we still have no firm grasp on whether fans will be allowed back in stadiums like Dowdy-Ficklen. While single game tickets have yet to go on sale for ECU football, the athletic department eclipsed 10,000 season tickets sold earlier this month.

There is still time for those decisions to be made, but student-athletes are beginning to make their return to campus for workouts. On July 6, ECU coaches will be allowed to start formal workouts and other activities, meaning this week will be busy for players who live outside North Carolina to move to Greenville for the season.

Earlier this week, many of the remaining half of ECU’s football players are expected back. Before they can start workouts, they must be tested for coronavirus and educated on best practices and procedures to cut down the spread.

Thus far, ECU has returned no positive tests for the virus among student-athletes or staff, a promising sign for those that want football to resume on time.

As summer deepens and experts learn more about coronavirus, expect guidelines and recommendations to shift. Hopefully those shifts are in a positive direction as the Pirates are expected to begin formal fall practices at the end of July.

ECU’s first football game of the 2020 season is scheduled for Aug. 29 in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium against Marshall.

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