Christmas came early this year, and a beardless, tall, slender man put the present under the tree for the Virginia Tech faithful. Whit Babcock yanked all future road games against East Carolina off the Hokies' football schedule. This was a brilliant move, for a couple of reasons.
1. It added a seventh home game to the 2019 schedule. The 2019 home schedule is weak (Furman, Old Dominion, Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, and Wake Forest). That's due to the odd-year flip-flop of ACC games, plus lack of a marquee non-conference game in Lane Stadium (and I expect ECU's replacement to be a sleeper, but that doesn't matter). Wake Forest is a solid rotational matchup, but not a headliner. Babcock tried to make up for quality with quantity. And at this stage in the game, it's a shrewd move to make season ticket packages more appealing.
2. The series was stale, and 100% of Virginia Tech fans wanted to see it end (+/- 1% error). The two programs played 21 times since 1987, and every year except 2012 from 2007 through 2017. The Hokies were scheduled to face the Pirates six times over the next seven seasons. And even though the home games against the Pirates remain the schedule, Babcock was playing chess.
#Hokies AD Whit Babcock on future ECU games: "As of now, the games that are to be played in Blacksburg are still on the schedule. If East Carolina still wants to come up and play, we'll happily host them."— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) December 22, 2018
Babcock said games at home with ECU still scheduled, though he added that he'd be "surprised" if Pirates came up to play those. Said they talked about neutral site game in 2019 with ECU but couldn't make it happen. #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) December 22, 2018
Now the ball is in East Carolina's court. Its new athletic director, Jon Gilbert, made public comments about the significance of the series.
"We have talked and it's an important series," Gilbert said of communicating with the Hokies. "It's a series East Carolina has had back to 1956. The teams go back and forth. We travel well there. They travel well here. It's a good regional game. I think it is important. We want to be good partners and we want to make it work."
It became less of a partnership this past season when ECU made a unilateral decision and announcement to cancel the 2018 contest.
Babcock said #Hokies had thought about re-evaluating schedule with ECU in the past, but the miscommunication with the cancellation earlier this year led VT to move to opt out of those games.— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) December 22, 2018
Either the Pirates travel to Blacksburg and Virginia Tech benefits from a home-only series against a G5 program (I hear the "big dogs" barking), or the Pirates walk away from the table and Tech schedules fresher, possibly more desirable, non-conference matchups. Both outcomes are beneficial for the Hokies.