East Carolina athletics director Jon Gilbert wants to remain deliberate with the Pirates’ scheduling options for football, even comparing it to the current flexibility and hiccups Major League Baseball teams have faced.
What is known is ECU will not play at South Carolina on Sept. 12 and will not host Norfolk State on Sept. 19. Marshall is scheduled to play at ECU on Aug. 29 for a Week 0 game, which fueled the Pirates beginning their preseason camp Friday, but options exist. Gilbert said he is comfortable with the planned eight American Athletic Conference games and two in nonconference.
“We still are intending to play football, that hasn’t changed, but as you see what’s going on across the country, we are all having to deal with positive tests and more important than the positive tests is the contact tracing,” Gilbert said Friday afternoon during a Zoom session with media members. “Our last discussion was we are going to continue with our conference schedule as is, and institutions will make a decision on what their nonconference schedule looks like and knowing we all have options to adjust when new information comes available. ... (MLB teams) are not in a bubble, like the NBA is, so you are seeing more positive tests and more contact tracing. I do anticipate that in college football. We’re going to be in residence halls and in institutional facilities, so we are not going to be in a bubble, and I think college football is going to more mirror Major League Baseball.”
The spread-out geography of the AAC presents its own challenges. ECU is the only member in North Carolina, South Carolina or Virginia.
There are two schools each in Florida and Texas.
ECU’s American opener is slated for Sept. 24 against UCF in Greenville, followed by a non-league game in Atlanta against Georgia State on Oct. 3 and then a trip to Tampa a week later to play South Florida. Consecutive road contests are scheduled again in November with Cincinnati on Nov. 12 and Temple on Nov. 21.
“Obviously, there are some states where if you travel to those states, you could have to quarantine for some period of time, depending on the school and the location, so that is very much a concern,” Gilbert said.
ECU athletics reported on Friday it had five active COVID-19 cases among its total of 641 COVID-19 tests. Gilbert described the Pirates as being in the upper-third compared to peers from a testing and protocol standpoint.
“I do feel comfortable with that, but I also understand what the realities are, and we are going to have to deal with a potential positive and potential contact tracing,” he said. “If that happens, we will shut players down and coaches, etc. and will follow medical guidelines.”
The Southeastern Conference made waves Thursday when announcing it would play only league games, beginning Sept. 26. Gilbert and Marshall AD Mike Hamrick talked Thursday and continue to work on details for their opening matchup.
“We talked about what the game would look like if we played it Aug. 29, and what would it look like if we pushed it back,” Gilbert said. “So 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 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.”