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Virginia Tech backs out of three scheduled football games at ECU

New ECU football coach Mike Houston: ‘We are not coming together to just be average’

New East Carolina football coach Mike Houston talks after being introduced during a press conference at the Murphy Center at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.
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New East Carolina football coach Mike Houston talks after being introduced during a press conference at the Murphy Center at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.

The fallout from East Carolina’s decision against traveling to play at Virginia Tech with Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas last September continues.

Virginia Tech will not play three planned football games at ECU, including one scheduled for next season, the school announced Saturday morning.

The schools had signed a contract to play games at Greenville in 2019, 2023 and 2025.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said during a conference call with reporters on Saturday that he had offered to play the 2019 game at a neutral site, possibly Charlotte, but ECU declined.

ECU athletic director Jon Gilbert, who was hired earlier this month and wasn’t employed by ECU in September, released a statement expressing “disappointment” with the situation.

“We received communication from Virginia Tech late Friday afternoon concerning the future of our football series and were notified, contrary to our existing contracts, it would not play ECU in Greenville during the 2019, 2023 and 2025 seasons,” Gilbert said. “While this is disappointing, especially from a regional interest standpoint and given our long-standing partnership, ECU’s decision not to travel to Blacksburg last September was based on imminent safety concerns related to Hurricane Florence, which tragically claimed multiple fatalities and devastated many North Carolina communities that are still in the recovery process today. Ultimately, the decision was made for the safety and welfare of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and their families and that will always be our top priority.”

Virginia Tech will seek to play an out-of-state FCS program instead of traveling to play the Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in 2019.

ECU and Virginia Tech remain contracted to play games in Blacksburg, Va., in 2020, 2022 and 2024.

“As of now, the games that are to be played in Blacksburg are still on the schedule,” Babcock said. “We did not opt out of those. If East Carolina wants to come up here and play, we would happily host them.”

Virginia Tech and ECU have been at odds since last September. With Hurricane Florence a few days from landfall on the N.C. coast, ECU’s administration decided on Sept. 11 the team would not travel for the Sept. 15 game at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.

With Gov. Roy Cooper having declared a state of emergency, the ECU campus was closed and the Pirates evacuated to Florida to prepare for their Sept. 22 American Athletic Conference game at South Florida in Tampa.

At the time, Babcock had preferred ECU wait an additional day to track the storm before canceling the game.

That controversy led to the decision for Virginia Tech to not play the three future games scheduled at ECU.

“It had somewhat been on our mind in previous years,” Babcock said. “Obviously, with the miscommunication and situation this year, it gave us the chance to sit back and evaluate our schedule.”

If Virginia Tech does play an FCS opponent in place of ECU in 2019, it would be at a scheduling disadvantage. The Hokies are already scheduled to play Furman at home on Aug. 31. Teams are only allowed to count one game against an FCS opponent toward the six wins needed for bowl eligibility.

If the Hokies play and beat two FCS teams next season, they would have to win a minimum of seven games to qualify for a bowl game.

Financially, though, Virginia Tech will benefit from trading a road trip to ECU for a home game. That will give the school seven home games in 2019.

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ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers talks about the hiring of Mike Houston as football coach after Houston was introduced during a press conference at the Murphy Center at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.

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