Last week, the Ivy League became the first NCAA conference to alter its fall sports schedule due to COVID-19. Their decision, which has been followed by the Patriot League in recent days, to push back fall sports to the spring could become the model that all other major conferences follow before the 2020 football season begins in August.

Already, notable Power 5 conferences have announced the cancellation of non-conference football games, effectively cutting their schedules down to eight or nine games. The thought is eliminating contests will give leagues more time to put COVID-19 protocols in place before the season and also build in some flexibility should some conferences games be pushed back or canceled.

As the remaining Power 5 conferences weigh their options, no Group of 5 leagues, including the American Athletic Conference, have made a decision about possible schedule alterations.

“We had a conference meeting last week and the emphasis that was pushed from both the head coaches and athletic directors was that the American plans, at this time, to try to play 12 games this fall,” ECU head football coach Mike Houston told Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game on Monday. “To play our regular schedule. Certainly that’s an evolving deal and could be impacted by what some other conferences do around the country. Right now, nothing has changed.”

ECU, which is beginning the second week of its first summer access period today, will be the first AAC school to return to action on the gridiron should its Week 0 matchup with Marshall remain on the docket.

In order for that to happen, the recent trends in COVID-19 cases will need to at least halt or reverse course altogether. Some upticks in cases have caused programs around the country to stop on-campus workouts, something that has been avoided up until this point by the Pirates.

Last week, ECU Athletic Director Jon Gilbert said 16 positive tests have been identified among players, coaches and staff in 270 total tests. On Monday, however, Houston said the number of total tests conducted has increased to 355 with around 70 more slated in the near future.

“We have had some positives, but our percentage is very low,” Houston said. “The vast majority are asymptomatic, but as you continue to test, you’re going to have some positives. The players are handling it pretty well. I think that all of us are, to a degree, a little bit consumed by this, or at least we are from a standpoint of how much we’re having to do protocol-wise.”

From the beginning, ECU mandated that all returning student-athletes and staff would be tested for COVID-19. Before they could begin working out, players underwent a week-long process of Zoom meetings and calls to educate them about necessary protocols to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

Up until this point, those protocols have allowed the Pirates to continue full speed ahead with workouts as plans begin to take shape for what in-season testing and protection from the virus could look like.

“For the most part, we’re going to try the best we can to create a bubble around the travel party from the time we leave here (Greenville) to the time we return,” Houston said. “We’ll have very little interaction with anyone outside of our group. You’re going to try to do as much as you can to limit exposure, to keep the coaches and players safe as possible. I think the protocols are going to be different than they have been in the past.”

Houston said part of the procedure would include testing everyone on the travel rosters, including coaches and support staff, once a week for the virus. With Vidant Health facilities so close to campus, the Pirates are afforded the luxury of setting lofty testing goals that other schools cannot as the turnaround for ECU’s tests are often within 24 hours.

Just 47 days away from their scheduled Week 0 tilt with Marshall, Houston and his staff are proceeding with workouts and activities like that game will be played. At this moment, it will go on as scheduled, but if this virus has taught us anything, it is the shifting sands that we are all living in right now could change at any moment.

“You’ve got to operate like everything is going to go uninterrupted, you’ve got to prepare for it that way,” Houston said. “We’ll adjust to whatever comes our way, but as we’ve all learned, this thing changes daily and what it looks like today, it’s going to look drastically different next Monday.”

Listen to Patrick Johnson’s full interview with Mike Houston that first aired on 94.3 The Game on Monday below:

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