It was all but inevitable, given the immediate reaction of Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, that the Hokies would eventually cancel their future football dates at East Carolina as retaliation for the Pirates choosing the safety of their players over their scheduled game in Blacksburg last September.
Last week, just three days before Christmas, Babcock finally made it official by announcing that Tech would not travel to Greenville to play next season. He also indicated that his school would cancel contracted meetings at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in 2023 and 2025.
The Pirates and Hokies have games in Blacksburg scheduled for 2020, 2022 and 2024. But despite Babcock’s disingenuous assertion that “if East Carolina still wants to come up here and play we will happily host them,” it’s almost certain that’ll never happen.
The cancellations signal an end to what was once a mutually beneficial rivalry that saw the teams from neighboring states play one another 10 times in an 11-year stretch from 2007-2017.
It’s a series that came about, in part, because of the respect former Tech coach Frank Beamer had for the Pirates’ and ECU’s long-standing desire to increase the profile of its traditionally successful program.
“When you find a team that you can schedule long-term like we have with East Carolina,” Beamer said in 2015, “it’s a real, real plus.”
Times and circumstances change, however. And the dynamic of the relationship between ECU and Virginia Tech became dramatically altered the moment Beamer announced his retirement and walked away two seasons ago.
At that point it was only a matter of time before the Hokies began looking elsewhere for their future football opponents. All they needed was an excuse to get out of their contract with the Pirates.
They got it courtesy of Mother Nature.
Hurricane Florence made a direct hit on the coastline of Eastern North Carolina, doing $17 billion in damage and killing 41 people in the state. The ensuing flooding closed Interstate 40 and some other thoroughfares in the region for an extended period.
And yet, despite the dangers the approaching storm presented — and the fact that North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina and other schools throughout the region had already cancelled their games — Babcock criticized ECU for relocating to the safety of Orlando, FL, rather than traveling to Virginia to play as scheduled.
He issued a statement saying that it would have been “more responsible and accurate” to wait until Florence got closer to landfall before cancelling the game. That was followed closely by a post on Tech’s official Twitter account questioning the Pirates’ motives for not playing.
ECU eventually scheduled a makeup game at N.C. State on Dec. 1. While the Hokies recouped the home date they lost by playing Marshall that same day, they were still able to use the Pirates’ cancellation as an excuse to sever their ties with them.
The truth is, as Babcock admitted to the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week, that the future of the ECU-Virginia Tech series would have been in doubt with or without the help of a killer hurricane.
“It had somewhat been on our mind in previous years,” Babcock told the newspaper. “Obviously, with the miscommunication and situation this year, it gave us the chance to sit back and evaluate our schedule.”
Babcock’s use of the word “miscommunication” is interesting, considering that the only miscommunication involved with last September’s cancellation had to do with the motives of the two schools’ athletic programs.
Newly hired ECU athletic director Jon Gilbert called Tech out for its apparent callousness by issuing a statement suggesting that while his school was more concerned with the safety of its players, coaches and fans, Tech was only interested in the financial benefits of playing a home football game.
“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,” Gilbert said. “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.”
Gilbert added that he was disappointed the Pirates’ “long-standing partnership” with Tech is apparently coming to an end. But while it might look as though Babcock is the Grinch for putting coal in ECU’s stocking around Christmastime, he’s actually given Gilbert and new coach Mike Houston a valuable gift in the opportunity to fill open spots on their upcoming schedules.
There was a time in which ECU needed games against the likes of Virginia Tech, South Carolina, West Virginia and Florida to make a little money and steal a few minutes in the national spotlight.
That’s not the case since the Pirates upgraded their affiliation from Conference USA to the much more competitive American Athletic Conference. Faced with a significantly tougher league slate year in and year out, ECU can now afford to use at least three of its four nonconference dates on opponents more conducive to producing winning records and bowl bids.
It’s a process that can begin sooner rather than later — as early as next fall, in fact — thanks to Virginia Tech’s decision to end a relationship that continues to be a “real plus-plus” situation even as it’s in the process of being dissolved.
As long as Badcock is the AD up there we should never schedule anything with VT. We have enough problems without dealing with that kind of irresponsibility.
I would like to see Gilbert reach out to USM to get that series restarted. I wouldn’t mind playing USM and Marshall on a rotating basis every few years.
VT was once my second favorite school as my son attended Tech one year. Not anymore, they have joined those in CH as my less favorites. Fact is I was pulling for Cincinnati in the Military Bowl who came through to provide Tech with a losing record this year. Great, after all UC is an AAC member and Tech is mud.!
Amen. And I will use the term “Hokie Tantrum” going forward!
John Walsh says
This article is littered with false information. Wheres the info about why the game was cancelled? ECU agreed to wait until Wednesday to call the game and then posted in theirnofficial twitter hours later that they were headed to Florida. VT was scrambling to find safe haven for you and your players to be out of harms way including flights with our charter to Florida. You decide not to play VT and then not even a courtesy call to say you’ve changed your mind. Then agreed to talk about rescheduling the game and the day before VT and ECU are scheduled to talk about a makeup game you announce youve scheduled a home game against NCST! Again, not even a courtesy call. Idk about you but if a friend did this to me, I wouldn’t be friends with them anymore.
Best of luck pirates but our AD is not at fault here. ECU really dropped the ball here. Best of luck finding someone to play so close for the amount of money and P5 prestige.
Keith Gardner says
Amen! But don’t confuse this low,rated reporter with facts!! Reporters like him have given the profession a bad name Sadly used daily by the lotus!
ECU could have made it lright if NOT for scheduling the makeup game with NC STATE which was as bad a decision as their others. NC State was a better team and an instate team. My take on that is they wanted to lose to a instate team to put a stamp on firing their HC, who had NO say in the makeup game. He allegedly said he’d preferred to stick with VT. Who wouldn’t have this year? Well whoever was.makimg decisions down there needs some extra education on.how to deal with friends! No doubt VT was the real loser in this long term relationship as they could only lose! If they won, they’re suppose to but a loss was very tough. I don’t get ECU’S handling nor their response to VT dropping the home games with a lesser rated program. But.now ECU can get their in/state university friends to play them. I’d think they could fill it with 1 of the 4 North Carolina schools each year on a rotating basis. Sounds like a win win for ECU. Good luck.
Good riddance to ECU. Happy to have them off the VT schedule for good.
Sad you feel that way. We’ve always enjoyed the comraderie we’ve had with VT and were the first team to play you guys after the mass shooting at VT and provided you with $100k check. We hurt for you guys, as did much of the nation. Hate to see it come to this. Your AD sounds like the one we just got rid of here at ECU. From what I’ve heard from some VT faithful, he’s not well-liked. So long VT!
Really? Sadly you’re right as the fans did seem to enjoy each other but to say the AD is not well liked is just like Trump saying Mexico would pay for the wall..LOL Fake news! Hokie fans love their AD!! I’m sure a few don’t but their is a lot of stupidity out there! BTW, we’re you planning to travel to the game this year? You think ECU at minimum would have been better served by traveling to VT, and practicing there on their fields or indoor facility if they could NOT have played, instead of flying so early to Florida? Especially in the wake of the hurricane missing the Blacksburg area. ECU was suppose to wait til Wednesday and agreed! But whoever jumped the gun and did not wait. OK who knows who really made that questionable call.why did they NOT play the makeup with VT instead of the better NC State team? Sadly someone screwed up at ECU and they’re not even taking the responsibility of an irrational response to a long time friend, one of the ONLY P5 schools willing to partner with them! Makes no sense!! Screw me once shame on ECU but screw me twice shame on VT!! Yes it IS sad for both fan bases but reporters writing a one sided biased article only makes the breakup worse. If it’s TRULY a win-win for ECU, why all the hard feelings and misinformation being spread? Move on! Best of luck to both programs! If you can’t admit it was a stale relationship then you’re just butt hurt. It should have been cut some anyway as both fan bases prefer different opportunities for playing other CFB teams! Now both have their chance but they should agree to play occasionally! One side needs to step up! The question is which one will?