The 2020-21 athletic year at East Carolina was unique. Canceled games, games without fans, games without key personnel, cancellation of sports, restoration of sports, more adjustments due to diminished revenue, the potential for more revenue for athletes, an increasingly busy transfer portal and another trip to a Super Regional in baseball were among the developments.
The Pirates even found out that replay reviews, designed to correct officiating mistakes, can make mistakes of their own and that those mistakes in the review booth can decide outcomes. ECU learned that the hard way.
Many of the recently-completed school year’s abnormalities were related to the pandemic. Just when the country was feeling good about opening back up, the NCAA sent the N.C. State baseball team home from the College World Series due to a prohibitive number of positive tests.
The Wolfpack was besieged by the delta variant of the coronavirus, a new strain whose impact is yet to be determined.
Nothing seems surprising when COVID collides with the world of sports and the recovery may yet sustain some unforeseen relapses.
“It’s hour to hour,” said ECU basketball coach Joe Dooley as he navigated through numerous adjustments generated by protocols, including his own self isolation for a span during the season. .
The Pirate baseball team had flown to Houston in mid-April for an American Athletic Conference series when the Cougars determined that they couldn’t play. The Pirates were 26-5 at the time and were 8-0 in the AAC. ECU, ranked No. 9 going into a home series with Central Florida the following weekend, was 18-12 for the remainder of the season.
The lost weekend at Houston was followed by a 2-2 split with the Knights and seemingly marked a downturn for the Pirates, who were 12-8 in the league after the cancellations in Houston.
COVID was a helpful factor at times. The Pirates had never won an AAC football matchup with Temple going into a game in Philadelphia on Nov. 21. The Owls were down to their fifth-string quarterback due to several factors, including positive tests, and ECU prevailed 28-3 in the penultimate clash of the season.
With the momentum of that triumph, the Pirates finished the season with a stunning 52-38 triumph at home over Southern Methodist. ECU led 45-7 at the half.
The Pirates were 3-6 overall in 2020 and 3-5 in the AAC with a 34-30 loss at Tulsa on Oct. 30. Replay officials appeared to make several errors down the stretch but the AAC acknowledged that the Pirates should have been awarded possession on a fumble with a 30-27 lead with just over two minutes left.
Another unfortunate situation was a factor in a 27-23 home loss to Navy on Oct. 17 as starting quarterback Holton Ahlers missed the game with what apparently was a false positive test.
Positive tests came in bunches during basketball season and impacted the program after a 7-1 start. The departure of leading scorer and rebounder Jayden Gardner to Virginia will require a significant adjustment for returners and recruits. The ability of teams in the NBA playoffs to compete successfully without star players gives a measure of hope for ECU.
The baseball program will go forward without All-Americans Gavin Williams, the AAC Pitcher of the Year, and second baseman Connor Norby, the AAC Player of the Year, who are expected to go in the MLB draft, which starts July 11. ECU’s Cliff Godwin, the AAC Coach of the Year, also must find a pitching coach to replace Jason Dietrich, who will be taking over at Cal State Fullerton.
The baseball Pirates continued to get it done in the classroom with a 3.69 grade point average.
ECU football had spring practice again despite some pauses and there is building anticipation for the 2021 season, which gets underway Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m., in Charlotte against Appalachian State. The Pirates didn’t have spring ball in 2020, another consequence of COVID.
It will be interesting to see how the name, image, likeness (NIL) approval will affect ECU athletes.
Maybe all of the new and unusual circumstances of 2020-21 could be preserved in a time capsule in a new indoor practice facility for football.
Someone, some day might be interested in the transformational aspects of the past school year.