So us fans were all sitting there, stinging from a 5-2 road loss at UNC-Wilmington. It was March 11th, and at least for this Pirate fan, the loss to one of our regional rivals was only a glancing blow because I knew that the coming weekend held another opportunity for the nationally-ranked (19th) Pirates to reset and right the ship.
Coming to Clark-LeClair Stadium Stadium that weekend was a struggling Columbia University squad (1-7 on the season) and the conditions appeared ripe for the Pirates to add another broom to the mounting home sweeps add another broom to the inventory with a three-game set scheduled against Columbia University. Then, came COVID-19 and the world turned upside down. The promising ECU season hit the air brakes and ECU fans were quickly denied its annual dose of victory and happiness.
And while the 2021 baseball season should be tremendous with some many great players returning to teams around the country with an extra season of eligibility, there is nothing to refill the void that disappeared upon the virus’ arrival. Not seeing Alec Burleson finish his career at ECU is a bitter pill and the not having what has become an annual, legitimate shot at the CWS run for the money is leaving this Pirate fan with a whole lot of ECU love and nowhere to give it. I’m a pent up Pirate.
So, naturally, attention has already turned to the football season…will we have one? Will it be typical or some new variation? Will it be safe for the players and coaches while at the same time allowing diehard fans to get their fill? And, will ECU be an improved team despite the chaos that is the 2020 off-season?
Thank goodness for the efforts of Bonesville and Hoist the Colours and others who have been producing content to keep the fans informed throughout these uncertain times…there is plenty…it has been comforting to me and provided some form of normal in a time that is anything but. Thanks Danny…thanks Stephen. Of course the Sports Information staff at ECU also has been keeping the embers burning as everyone awaits what the next steps will be. Thanks Tom…those Classic Rewinds have been soooooo on the mark…what a great idea!
I’m conflicted for sure, torn between the fan in me that so embeds ECU athletics in my life that to have it on hiatus is truly disruptive and depressing. And, on the other side, the health industry professional who has way too much access to data to allow me to write off the realities of this virus so that I can 100% support “back to football.”
Not to mention, hanging in the balance if there is no football team, will be another round of budget cuts…what program would go next? If a traditional powerhouse program (swimming and diving) was cut at ECU, would baseball go on the chopping block? Temple cut their program in 2014. It happens. There is so much riding on this football season for ECU.
Full disclosure here as well…I have a 15-year old football player in the house – a good one – that is losing his mind without football right now. More on that – the high school angle – for another post. I get the impact…there is a short clock for these athletes and to lose even a partial season will impact their future immensely.
That said, what to do? The science side of me recognizes that just because we say, “ok, we did enough, time to get back to normal,” doesn’t mean that the virus is on the same wavelength. It will continue to spread as long as there are hosts to spread to and there is not an interventional treatment or a vaccine available. As schools have started voluntary workouts, we are already seeing cases pop up, like at Alabama, Iowa State, Houston, Auburn, Florida State, Boise State, South Carolina, and the list goes on…and it has basically been just a week back for the voluntary workouts.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) this week also indicated in its guidelines for return to play at that level, that football is classified in the highest risk category for COVID spread. And despite a slew of related articles available from the NCAA, my skepticism of that organization prevents me from expecting anything that is truly focused on player or fan safety. Moreover, when you see stories like this one regarding Ohio State, my faith in schools doing the right thing is shaken and my hopes for seeing the Pirates play this season begin to wane. Don’t even begin to think this is about player safety…it is about liability and preventing lawsuits should an athlete fall ill and God forbid die from COVID as result of “voluntary” return to football. Spoiler alert, these players are being “volunTOLD” to return to football. The athletes are powerless here and much like essential workers, will return because they have no real choice other than risk the scholarship they worked so hard to earn and therefore the education which is their only compensation.
So where does that leave me as a fan? What do I want to happen?
Short of the virus just going away…snap back to reality…I am hoping that safety protocols and the highest level of medical treatment available will be enough to help these coaches and athletes to work through a season that will be as tough as any they will experience. Players are going to get sick and teams are going to be depleted and fans are going to get sick, so anything that minimizes the numbers impacted is critical. ECU has to put players and coaches ahead of all else and ensure that if there is a player who does not want to return, that their scholarship is honored and that they are not mistreated. The players must be educated for safety protocols and the school must monitor it and act proactively. And, lastly, the school has to be willing to pull the plug should an outbreak occur local to the team.
Fans have to be willing to follow safety requirements for the love of their Pirates. Masks (if anyone has a line into some cool ECU masks please message me), social distancing (at tailgates too), temp checks, ongoing sanitizing of common surfaces, gloves, stadium medical kiosks, and mutual respect need to rule game day…then maybe there is a chance it can happen.
I am in need of ECU football…I want to see ECU football…but, I love it enough to let it go this season. If that is what is needed.
Love to hear thoughts on this.