HUNTINGTON — If college football makes an on-time return for 2020, it could be Marshall and East Carolina kicking off the post-COVID football era.
Earlier this week, Notre Dame and Navy announced their season-opener in Dublin, Ireland was moved to Annapolis, Maryland.
More importantly, the date of that contest shifted from Week Zero — Aug. 29 — to Week 1 — either Sept. 5 or 6.
That means Marshall’s road opener with East Carolina on Aug. 29 is now only one of six games on the date and the lone contest taking place on the East Coast.
“Any time you can have that national stage as the only two playing, it’s special,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “And it sounds like that may happen with Notre Dame moving the game with Navy from Ireland. It sounds like it’s a real possibility.
“With that game moved and the rest being West coast games, we may be the only game going on the East coast at the time. That exposure would be tremendous and I think it would be a great thing.”
The opportunity is contingent on the 2020 football season starting on time and not being shortened, both of which are directly-related to after-effects of the nation resuming some normalcy after COVID-19 halted athletics and every day life for a two-month stretch.
Should it be played as scheduled, that contest will be carried on ESPN’s family of networks, which was announced when ECU and Marshall got an approved petition for the game to be moved from Sept. 5 to Aug. 29.
The likelihood was also that ESPN would showcase Notre Dame and Navy with its Week Zero College Gameday telecast from Ireland, but with that game now moved from that date, there is distinct possibility that College Gameday could host its program from Greenville, North Carolina.
No matter if College Gameday hosts from the site of the potential matchup or not, the game will have significant meaning to both schools because the game commemorates the start of Marshall’s 50th football season since the 1970 Marshall plane crash, which nearly ended the program.
That crash occurred on Nov. 14, 1970, as Marshall returned to Tri-State Airport following a 17-14 loss to East Carolina at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
However, a College Gameday telecast for the 50th anniversary matchup between the teams began long before COVID-19 and nearly as soon as the ink was dry on the contract.
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium has a Marshall memorial set up by its visitor’s entrance, honoring the 75 persons lost in that 1970 crash. The memorial was unveiled on Nov. 11, 2006, prior to a Conference USA matchup between the teams.
Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick, a former Herd player who later also served as athletic director at East Carolina from 1995-2003, knows the importance of the contests from both sides.
“Have you ever seen that memorial? It’s beautiful,” Hamrick said. “Those two programs are bound together by the greatest tragedy in sports. It’s going to be an awesome game for all involved and we hope that it goes on as scheduled. It would make a special start for the commemoration of the 50th year since the crash.”
While there is plenty of historical background for the game, that potential exposure plays largely in Holliday’s favor, too, because it allows for prospective student-athletes to see his program exclusively as the season gets underway.
That is magnified in 2020 because the NCAA’s mandated recruiting dead period due to COVID-19 was extended through July, which means typical recruiting opportunities through summer camps are not available.
With a tentative practice start date of mid-July for the season to begin on time, it means coaches will have limited ability to recruit once in-season practice begins.
The game would be a recruiting coup that could resonate with prospects from the beginning of the 2020 campaign, which could yield results if the NCAA keeps its December early signing period — one of several unknowns floating in the NCAA’s world in response to COVID-19.
Whether the season will start on time is still unknown, although steps are being taken in an attempt to begin as normal.
On Thursday, NCAA president Mark Emmert told Congress the possibility still exists that the season may be shortened and that some schools will not play in 2020, which could obviously impact Marshall’s season-opener with East Carolina.
For now, though, Marshall and East Carolina are potentially slated to add to their already historic background.