Right out of the gate in 2020, ECU football is presented with a unique opportunity. Nevermind the fact that the Pirates are playing host to a nationally ranked UCF team to kick-off their season, but after Notre Dame’s game against Wake Forest was canceled earlier this week, they will do so in front of a nationally televised audience.
The game, which will kick-off just after noon, was originally slated to be on ESPN-plus for a streaming audience only. In the first year of ESPN’s deal with the American Athletic Conference, the Pirates were set to open the campaign on a non-linear network against the highest ranked AAC team in the country. With the cancellation, however, ECU will now be thrust into the national spotlight for the first time since playing Temple on ESPN on a Thursday night in 2019.
“Certainly the exposure that national TV and a channel like ABC brings is — No. 1 I would say — really important for this region, for this university and then specifically our football program,” ECU Athletic Director Jon Gilbert said. “It’s going to be a three and a half hour infomercial with a lot of things that are East Carolina related. I’m excited that we have that opportunity. I like the fact that our fan base is going to be able to access it nation-wide. I’ve heard from Pirates all over that are really excited that they’re going to be able to tune into a nationally televised program and see the stadium. I am excited about that and the exposure it will bring us all.”
ECU and UCF will be only the second game broadcast on ABC in the noon time slot so far this season. Last week AAC members Navy and Tulane occupied that slot with 1.35 million viewers tuning in to see the Midshipmen score 27 unanswered points in the largest comeback in school history.
Touting a program on the rise, ECU will get the chance to beat a ranked team for the first time since 2014 and stop an eight-game skid against AP ranked programs. That opportunity to start the season with a bang, and the overall direction head coach Mike Houston has the program pointed in, is reason enough for Pirate Nation to be excited about football season.
“I think that everyone across the country is excited for football season to get here so each fan base is going to be ecstatic about their team playing,” Houston said on Thursday. “I think especially with the national stage that we’re going to play on Saturday, I would think that all of Pirate Nation is very excited to see this team back and see this team playing. Had some Board of Trustees people here on campus today. Spoke to a couple of them and they are just so excited about the bright future of the program.”
That future starts this season with a roster featuring north of 50 new players, many of which have been recruited to fill deficits on the defensive side of the football. The Pirates’ youth will be on full display to the 350 people in attendance on Saturday, as well as an audience from all across the country.
“I got a bunch of guys that are playing their first college football game, they’re going to be excited,” Houston said. “I told them if they screw up, just screw up going 100 miles an hour, we’ll figure the rest out. Big challenge on Saturday, everybody is excited to play.”