Of all the things that Virginia Tech’s Athletic Department does, the one thing I will never understand is the obsession with playing East Carolina in Football. It’s never made any sense and frankly won’t ever make any sense.
First, let’s be clear, I don’t like East Carolina. This dates back to my days at WVVA when the stupid Pirate mascot kept getting in my way while I was shooting the Virginia Tech-East Carolina game and I told him that if he did it one more time I was going to deck him.
But, that aside, I don’t get ECU and it’s fans belief that they are somehow more important that they are. Based in Greenville, North Carolina ECU isn’t going to ever be known as a high-academic institution. There used to be a joke in North Carolina that it should be called “EZU” because the only thing easier than getting in, was getting out. It’s also not an athletic powerhouse. Their basketball program is currently one of the worst in the nation dating back to the decision to hire Ricky Stokes as head coach. Stokes – hired by his former coach Terry Holland who was ECU’s A.D at the time – ran the program into the ground much like he did at Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech has managed to recover (although there appears to be some signs of distress with assistant coaches leaving and a 2018 – 2019 non-conference schedule that’s a complete joke), while ECU hasn’t worked its way out of the bottom of the American Conference.
A few good years on the football field with future NFL Quarterback Jeff Blake and a contract with ESPN had ECU thinking it was some type of football power as well. It’s not and it’s not going to be. So arrogant are the administrators and boosters of ECU, that when the Big-12 floated the idea of expanding to 12 teams a couple of years ago, ECU was politicking for admission. Give me one reason why a league with football powers like Oklahoma and Texas and a basketball power like Kansas would have any interest in expanding to Greenville, North Carolina? There’s isn’t. ECU needs to understand that it’s a group of five team in the American Conference and that’s where it’s going to be so deal with it.
AS for the Virginia Tech-ECU football game, I get that you need a certain amount of “winnable” games, but honestly the East Carolina game hasn’t always been winnable as emphasized by the disasterous performance in Charlotte in 2008 when Tech lost 27 – 22 and two straight losses under what became an extremely mediocre program under former coach Frank Beamer in 2014 and 2015.
Tech first played ECU in 1956, but for some reason beginning in 1987 ECU became a regular on the schedule. In 22 of the last 31 seasons (not counting the cancelled game this year) East Carolina has appeared on Tech’s schedule.
I assume the rationale for scheduling East Carolina initially was to get a presence in the State of North Carolina for recruiting purposes. That rationale no longer works. Virginia Tech has a presence in North Carolina with Duke and North Carolina on the schedule every year and there are going to be some years with the ACC’s rotating schedule from the other division that Wake Forest and N.C. State are going to appear on the schedule as well.
The recruiting rationale didn’t work during Beamer’s tenure at Virginia Tech as he refused to recruit North Carolina by asserting that you had to pass too many good schools to come to Virginia Tech. Well you have to pass some pretty damn good schools to come from Florida also and that didn’t stop you from mining the Sunshine state.
Under Justin Fuente his staff has shown the willingness to both recruit North Carolina but also sign players from the state. North Carolina is generally considered a “basketball” state but I’ve long said that it’s a hidden gem for football talent and that’s something Fuente figured out early. He still needs to up his game in recruting Virginia but he’s obviously smart enough to know that there’s plenty of talent in the “Tarheel” state that is interested in coming to a place where they actuall care about football and have the faciilites to prove it. Why that talent would want to stay in-state and play at North Carolina which is a dumpster fire, or N.C. State for that dynamic personality Dave Doren is beyond me. Duke and Wake Forest have such high academic standards that getting them into school isn’t always possible. So, Virginia Tech has a substantial presence in North Carolina now and they don’t need East Carolina to continue that.
Yet, ECU is still on Tech’s schedule for the foreseeable future with five more games scheduled between now and 2024. Three of those games are scheduled for Blacksburg in 2020, 2022 and and 2024. Tech goes to ECU next year in 2019 and 2023.
The games are no longer competitive. ECU’s administration clearly has no clue. They fired alumnus Ruffin McNeal after 2015 for some unknown reason. All McNeal did was beat Virginia Tech in back-to-back years. In his place, they hired Scotty Montgomery off the staff at Duke who is showing clearly that as a FBS level head football coach he’s a really good 9th grade gym teacher. Since Fuente came to town, Virginia Tech has outscored ECU 118-34.
ECU is a mess and – yes I know they beat North Carolina last week – but in their opening game of the season lost to FCS North Carolina A&T. The school has very little chance of winning more than a couple of games this season and Montgomery is likely to get shown the door before the end of the season and certainly at the end of the season.
That brings us to why Virginia Tech needs to say so long to ECU right now and cancel the contract. Hey, my philosophy on contracts is that they are made to be broken and that keeps people like me in business. This week ECU was scheduled to play in Blacksburg. On Monday they unilaterally cancelled this week’s game and I agree they had a good reason for doing so. A major hurricane is slamming the State and ECU’s athletic administration was obvioulsy and justifiably concerned about their student athletes.
That only works if you allow the student athletes to go home to their families. But, on Wednesday the school loaded the team on buses and went to Orlando, Florida for the week. From there, I assume in the times they are not at Disney riding Space Mountain, they’ll prepare for their game next week at South Florida in Tampa, a short bus ride from the Magic Kingdom.
Virginia Tech was more than willing to allow ECU to play the game this week and then camp out on campus or in nearby Roanoke to prepare for next week. ECU could have easily caught their charter in Roanoke next week to go to Tampa and I’m certain that given the hospitality of the Roanoke area at least one or possible more high schools in Roanoke would have welcomed ECU to use its facilities. Don’t give me the rationale that ECU was concerned about wind and rain remnents allegedly headed for the Roanoke area. We don’t get hurricanes in Roanoke and as for water, you are a bunch of damn football playears so handle it.
The fact is that ECU knew it was getting ready to take an ass whipping from Fuente for a third straight year and when they saw a chance to avoid it, they took it. If they really wanted to play they could have done so. They didn’t and that’s best illustrated by taking the team to Florida instead of Blacksburg.
I have very little hope that Virginia Tech’s nerd A.D. Whit Babcock will do anything about this. To his credit, Babcock asked ECU to wait until Wednesday to make a decision on the game. ECU didn’t communicate with Babcock and just simply said they weren’t going to come to Blacksburg. They apparently had no desire to even try to play this week or any other week. Babcock was pissed and issued a statement saying so, but then backed off of it. Why? If you are pissed, then tell them and stand behind it. Just because you are pissied at a lack of communication doesn’t mean you don’t have sympathy for the situation.
ECU also needs to understand that you have to communicate to get something done. Virginia and Ohio are the classic example of that. They figured out how to work together and get a game played under adverse circumstances, although the weather forecast certainly appears that Charlottesville will be just fine on Saturday.
So, now it’s up to Babcock to grow a pair and tell ECU that while he’s certainly sympathetic to the devastating impact Hurricane Florence is having on their campus and student athletes, he’s pissed they decided to relocate to Florida when they had an option to come to Blacksburg and so Virginia Tech won’t be playing ECU next year or any other year for as long as he’s in charge.
That won’t happen though as Babcock has an interest only in raising money and insists on pursuing the rapidly failing Drive for 25,000 members of the Hokie Club. Look on Tech’s athletic website today and what pops up first is Frank Beamer encouraging you to join the Hokie Club in the drive for 25. If Virginia Tech had any backbone at all, it’s time to say so long to the East Carolina Pirates for good. Maybe the school President could get it done because there’s no chance the A.D. will.