Ever so slowly athletic departments across the country are gaining more clarity as to what their schedules could look like for the upcoming football season. For ECU specifically, an announcement by the American Athletic Conference earlier this week paved the way for the Pirates to play their full eight-game league slate and up to four non-conference games.

While that freedom is there from the conference, ECU Athletic Director Jon Gilbert has gone on the record many times about feeling comfortable playing 10 games, while at the same time attempting to find a new date for the Marshall matchup.

“I’ve been in discussion with Marshall University regarding our football game on Aug. 29,” Gilbert said in a Zoom meeting with reporters on Friday. “I’ve been dealing with Mike Hamrick who’s been really good to work with through this process. I’ve requested, through Marshall, to slide our football game on Aug. 29 to a later date. We’re still in Phase 2 and we feel like it is the best option for us to play that game at a later date, and so I’ve requested that. Marshall and Mike Hamrick have been accommodating on that.

“We hope to have that finalized — the date finalized — sometime around the first of next week. We continue to work on that. My preference is to hold tight on 10 games for right now. I want to pause and make sure we have a good plan in place for those 10 games. I do think, certainly, we can evaluate and add if necessary, but at this time my priority is not adding games.”

The most obvious dates for that game to be moved to are the same ones that have been talked about for the last several weeks — Sept. 5 or Sept. 12. Both Marshall and ECU currently have openings on those dates after various cancellations by other teams and conferences.

Phase 2, which bans large outdoor gatherings, was extended by five weeks earlier this week by Governor Roy Cooper. As things stand right now, Phase 2 could be lifted as early as Sept. 11, making Sept. 12 a viable date to have at least some fans in the stands at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

A little more than three weeks before Marshall is currently scheduled to make the trip, head football coach Mike Houston is still operating under the assumption the game will be played on Aug. 29. For him and his program, he said it does not matter when the game is moved to, that it is up to his players to be prepared for game day.

“I haven’t got anything concrete yet about us moving the game…I know we’re having those discussions,” Houston said on Friday. “This whole summer I’ve been talking to the kids about, it doesn’t matter if we play on Aug. 29 or Sept. 5 or Sept. 12, or whenever. We got to be ready when that day comes. We got to be ready when the time to play comes about. I think the key for us is just getting some finality to when that game is going to be played and then just making sure we’re ready when that day comes. It is a little bit of a coach cliche, but control the things you can control. That’s what we’ve got to focus on.”

Things the Pirates can control right now centers around their work ethic in practice everyday and having the right mindset and attitude on the field despite the changing and uncertain conditions. Up until this point, Houston has not had many negative things to say about his team in that regard as the student-athletes have adapted well to the shifting sands of the world.

Nevertheless, Houston said he would like to have a finalized date for the game soon so he can structure practices and workouts accordingly.

“Depending on when the game gets moved to, if it gets moved, I think we would evaluate the next couple of weeks and maybe take more of a — not a spring practice — but more of that kind of approach as far as not practicing every single day,” Houston said. “Having some days in there where they just train with (Director of Strength and Conditioning) Big John (Williams Jr.) and the strength and conditioning staff. I think it would allow us to take our time a little bit right now in getting them into shape.”

Since preseason camp started last week, the Pirates have hit the field as a unit seven times, including a fundamental-focused practice this morning. To start camp, the Pirates practiced six days in a row in an attempt to work themselves back into shape after not being able to step foot on campus during the COVID-19 quarantine.

With a decision likely coming early next week according to Gilbert, that will give Houston and his staff flexibility with how they handle the remaining practices ahead of their first game of the season.

“If we’re going to move that game, I would rather us do it sooner rather than later so we can have that flexibility,” Houston said. “Two weeks out, we got to really lock in to game week mode. That would give us some time to take some days off, really spend a lot of time teaching and developing.”

The hold up right now according to Gilbert is waiting on Marshall to finalize their schedule so the two teams can land on a date that works for both programs. Many have speculated for weeks about how and when ECU versus Marshall will be played, but next week could finally be the week we receive a clear answer.

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