Decisions by the MEAC and SEC to limit their respective football schedules have left East Carolina University with only two non-conference games for the upcoming 2020 season. 

Currently, the American Athletic Conference has yet to make a decision about its scheduling model for the fall, but reports indicate the conference could be positioning itself to play its regular eight-game conference slate, with member institutions finding as many non-conference games as possible.

“There’s really no answer to that right now,” ECU Athletic Director Jon Gilbert said in regards to the future of the Pirates’ 2020 non-conference slate of games. “We’re going to figure that out in due time. I want to be very mindful and deliberate of what we do. Right now on the schedule as it sits, we have 10 games. We still have Marshall non-conference. I spoke to Mike Hamrick last night, we still are committed to playing that game. We also have the Georgia State game on Oct. 3 to comprise our two non-conference games. I want to be very patient and very deliberate as we decide whether we’re going to add games or not.”

Earlier in the off-season, Gilbert submitted a waiver request to the NCAA asking them for permission to move the Pirates’ match-up against Marshall up to Week 0. With this year being the 70th anniversary of the plane crash that tragically killed members of the Thundering Herd’s football team, Gilbert wanted a national spotlight on the pregame ceremonies that were planned.

As things stand right now, Gilbert said both he and Hamrick are committed to making that game happen this year, but the date may change pending further decisions from the conferences involved.

“We’re looking at every scenario,” Gilbert said. “When I talked to Mike Hamrick yesterday (Thursday), we talked about what does the game look like if we play it on the 29th and then what does it look like if we push it back. Every school is talking about what their plan is from a scheduling standpoint. I’m really comfortable with 10 games right now.

“I’m not saying that we won’t add a game, I just want to be very deliberate when we do that. Not many schools are looking at playing a full 12-game schedule right now because of the complexities. I think we’ll know in the next week or so what the first week or two of the season will look like.”

A potential remedy that has been floated should the game need to be pushed back from Aug. 29 is Sept. 12. With the ACC making the switch to playing just one non-conference and the SEC forgoing its non-conference slate for 2020, both ECU and Marshall are available.

“The first couple weeks of the season are flexible in the event we make the decision, we can slide it back a couple weeks,” Gilbert said. “We still are intending to play football, that hasn’t changed.”

As far as the two non-conference games that ECU has already lost, plans are already in the works to reschedule to later dates. While an announcement is not expected for the next few weeks, according to Gilbert, the plan is to push the Norfolk State game “three or four years” down the road. 

According to FBSchedules.com, ECU’s first non-conference opening is in 2025 when they would need to fill a home game. That would seemingly work as Norfolk State was scheduled to play ECU at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this fall.

Concerning ECU’s lone contest against an SEC opponent this year, it could be a few years before we see that game made up, if at all.

Back in 2014, ECU and South Carolina signed a contract to play five games, three in Columbia and two in Greenville. In 2017, however, South Carolina canceled the 2019 match-up in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and paid the Pirates a $1 million cancellation fee. The remaining game left on that original contract is a 2021 home game for ECU.

After that, there exists a decent sized gap in possibilities for both parties to meet in Columbia to make up this year’s game.

“I’ve had really good conversations with (Athletic Director) Ray Tanner at South Carolina,” Gilbert said. “Pretty much all summer we’ve been in constant contact. My anticipation for that game is to move it to a later year where we would return to Columbia at some point in the future and then they would still come to Greenville next year. I’ve got no indication that, that won’t happen. Still in discussion about exactly when that would take place.”

Assuming the game remains an away contest for ECU, the first year that makes sense is 2026. A year earlier, the Pirates already have two away non-conference games scheduled in NC State and Marshall. On South Carolina’s side, that year also makes sense as they need to fill both home and away non-conference games.

One potential wrinkle exists for the Pirates, however. If ECU played South Carolina in 2026, it would be on the heels of playing Big 12 opponent West Virginia in Greenville.

While a decision on rescheduling non-conference games does not feel too important at the moment as ECU and the AAC attempt to finalize a scheduling model for the upcoming year, Power 5 games are always important to the Pirates as they were set to make $300,000 by visiting Columbia this fall.

In a time of inconveniences and uncertainty, however, Gilbert and ECU’s athletic department are learning to quickly move on.

“This is not going to be a normal fall,” Gilbert said. “This is not going to be a normal football season. We are going to have multiple inconveniences along the way. I think the teams, schools, conferences that manage those inconveniences the best are the teams that are going to be most successful. I am constantly reiterating to our staff about being able to accept inconveniences and learn to work through them.”

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