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Gov. Cooper supporting the Pirates

North Carolina Governor
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In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks to the Associated Press during an interview at the Governor's mansion in Raleigh. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, January 31, 2019

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued public support Thursday for East Carolina football, which sparked more banter about scheduling difficulties between the Pirates and Virginia Tech.

Thursday’s series of statements also came one day after the Pirates added William & Mary to their schedule for this year to replace a canceled home game previously scheduled with Virginia Tech.

After Cooper’s public support of the Pirates and a statement from ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton was released, Virginia Tech associate athletics director for strategic communications Pete Moris wrote in an email that: “We’d politely decline the opportunity to comment.”

Cooper said in his statement that he contacted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and asked him to encourage Virginia Tech officials to work toward a scheduling resolution between the schools.

Virginia Tech athletics director Whit Babcock announced Dec. 22 that the Hokies will not come to Greenville in 2019, 2023 or 2025 for football games at ECU, a decision that stemmed from the Pirates’ decision not to travel last September to Blacksburg, Va., the week that Hurricane Florence hit the region. ECU officials decided early that week no Pirate teams would travel for competition.

“As North Carolina prepared for Hurricane Florence, I urged residents across our state to stay off the roads and prepare for this devastating storm. Canceling a major college football game means lost revenue, but the safety of players and fans should come first,” Cooper said in his statement. “ECU made the responsible decision and this dispute should be resolved without making Pirate Nation bear additional costs from Hurricane Florence.”

Staton also issued a statement Thursday afternoon, saying that he has talked to Cooper and is delighted that Cooper “is taking the lead in resolving this issue at the highest levels.” Staton said Greenville was in the bullseye of the storm until a late veer in the path, but Florence still devastated communities within an hour from ECU’s campus.

“We ended up closing our campus and encouraging all students to find a safe place to ride out the storm, and only about 19 of our almost 29,000 ECU students remained on campus,” Staton said. “The decision to send our football players to Florida, safely out of the path of the storm and near the next week’s game site, was the right one at the time and a good one with 20-20 hindsight.”

Cooper noted that Florence caused widespread flooding in North Carolina, 43 deaths and an estimated $17 billion in damage.

This year’s Va. Tech-ECU matchup was set to be the Pirates’ marquee home game for their first season under coach Mike Houston, who came from James Madison in December, and at a renovated Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The $60 million Southside Renovation Project is expected to be completed by the start of the season.

Instead, the Pirates’ two home nonconference games will both be against Football Championship Subdivision opponents in William & Mary and Gardner-Webb. ECU also will play at N.C. State and at Old Dominion.

East Carolina is still scheduled to travel to Virginia Tech in 2020, 2022 and 2024.

ECU and Virginia Tech played in football all but one year from 2007 to 2017, missing only the 2012 season. The Hokies lead the all-time series, 15-7.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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The void left by Virginia Tech’s decision not to travel to Greenville for football this season was filled Wednesday when the Pirates added Football Championship Subdivision member William & Mary to complete the ECU schedule for its first season under coach Mike Houston.

The game will be played Sept. 21 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

This gives East Carolina two games this year against FCS teams, joining a home contest against Gardner-Webb on Sept. 7. Only one win for Football Bowl Subdivision schools over FCS competition can count toward bowl eligibility.

ECU’s other nonconference games will both be on the road — Aug. 31 to open the slate against N.C. State and Sept. 28 versus Old Dominion.

“We had talks with several FCS and FBS schools over the past month about scheduling a game,” Pirate athletics director Jon Gilbert said in a release. “We began discussions with William & Mary’s administration earlier this month about partnering together and we are excited to have the Tribe visit Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this September.

“We hope to receive our conference dates in the near future and then we will be able to release the full schedule with season tickets going on sale Feb. 20. This is an exciting time for Pirate football and I know coach Houston, our staff and players can’t wait to get started with spring practice.”

Virginia Tech athletics director Whit Babcock announced Dec. 22 that the Hokies will not come to Greenville in 2019, 2023 or 2025 for football games at ECU.

"I hate that the series made it to what it did, because it had been a great series and really a solid rivalry," Houston said earlier this month during a one-on-one interview with The Reflector’s Ronnie Woodward. “So it is really sad that it is going to go away.”

East Carolina holds a 12-4-1 all-time record versus the Tribe. Their most recent outing was a 38-23 Pirate win on Sept. 22, 2001.

William & Mary hired Mike London, a former head coach at Howard, Virginia and Richmond, in November. The Tribe, which posted a 4-6 record a year ago and has faced at least one FBS opponent each season since 1998, also plays at Virginia this fall.

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