Classes began this morning at East Carolina University, and inevitably, football players attended some of them in-person. While ECU’s shift to providing select classes online will allow some student-athletes, especially those in larger lecture-style courses to explore the remote option, today signaled the official end of the Pirates’ de facto bubble on campus.

Since early to mid-July, student-athletes from various teams have been filtering back to campus to participate in preseason workouts. Football and men’s and women’s basketball came back first, while other falls sports like volleyball have eased into activities.

With the loss of their bubble as around 30,000 students from all over the country ascended on ECU’s campus, a big focus heading into the 2020 college football for Pirate head coach Mike Houston and his staff will be keeping players distanced as much as possible from the general student body. That holds true both before and after ECU players take their mandated pregame test each week.

“What your focus is, is after we test on Wednesday, the guys that come through that test negative and are not quarantined from a contact trace or anything like that — from Thursday on — we’ve got to be extremely protective of any interactions that we have, as far as our bubble, with anyone on the outside,” Houston said on Saturday.

Earlier this off-season, the American Athletic Conference mandated that all players, coaches and staff be tested 72 hours before a game. That window would give testing facilities enough time to turnaround the tests and for schools to contact trace individuals exposed to positive tests.

While testing and contact tracing remain huge parts of attempting to play a college football season in the middle of a pandemic, Houston said there are many other things to consider when it comes to the day-to-day operations of a game week.

“We’ve talked through the protocols that we’re using on Friday and Saturday,” Houston said. “We’ve talked through traveling at a lower capacity. Our night stay at a lower capacity. Trying to distance as much as we can, trying to keep guys isolated as much as we can to try to protect everyone to game day. You look at what the NCAA has as far as their protocols, I think that our protocols are a good bit stricter. You just got to try to do everything you can to keep everybody safe going into game day.”

Whether or not teams across the country even get to have game days this fall has been called into jeopardy this weekend. Reports by SI’s Ross Dellenger and other outlets have suggested the Big Ten could be the next FBS conference to cancel fall sports after the Mid-American Conference made a similar decision over the weekend.

League officials from the various Power 5 and Group of 5 schools are scheduled to meet in the coming days to discuss, in part, the future of their respective conferences. While Houston will no doubt be tuned into whatever the American Athletic Conference decides, he has been preaching to his players since the beginning of camp the importance of controlling what you can control and trying not to worry about the rest.

He said getting into that mindset allows his players to focus on the task at hand, which is getting ready to play a football game against Marshall sometime in the next month. With each passing day, what shape the college football season could take seems to shift multiple times, but you will not find Houston or his players getting caught up in the conflicting reports swirling on the internet.

“We’ve discussed so many things as far as factors that we can control,” Houston said. “That’s all you can do, so try to control what you can control.”

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