It is hard to build a decent program when you have to compete with 4 in-state schools who are all members of the ACC. It is even tougher when two of those schools (NC State & UNC) are large state schools that always get first dibs on everything. ECU is more than just a little brother school. ECU is so overlooked that at times they take the role of the little brother’s imaginary friend.
This season has been a historic one for the Pirates. Their 42-28 win over NC State on Saturday, plus a 55-31 win over UNC earlier in the season marked the first time in program history that the Pirates have beaten both their in state rivals in the same season. Not only did ECU beat both schools, they beat them both times on a road by a combined 38 points.
How unprecedented is this? Just ask WVU coach Dana Holgerson who stated at the start of the season, “Why should East Carolina be fighting for the same prize as North Carolina? That’s absurd.” (1)
Well ECU is proving on and off the field that they can compete at the same level as Tobacco Road. They are sitting at 9-2 with a chance to advance to the Conference USA Championship Game. Their only losses were 15-10 against Virginia Tech and a 36-33 overtime loss to Tulane. This season ECU will be going to their sixth bowl in seven seasons, another first in program history.
Off the field East Carolina is seeing tremendous growth as well. For the sixth straight year ECU is the fastest growing campus in the University of North Carolina system and has 26,000 strong and is the third largest university in North Carolina. ECU has a passionate and deeply loyal fanbase who lead the conference in attendance last year averaging over 47,000 a game and filling their stadium to 94% capacity. To put that in perspective the school who finished second in attendance for that year was UCF at 34,000 while Houston finished second in capacity at 85%. The most amazing part about these attendance stats is that both UCF & UCF have much larger enrollments (UCF 60,000 & UH 40,000 compared to ECU’s 26,000) and are located in the football crazy states of Florida & Texas.
Things are looking up for NC State and it couldn’t be coming at a better time. Next Year ECU & Tulane will be making the transition to the newly formed AAC. The Pirates now have to deal with the dilemma of how to compete in a state that will soon have a total of 7 FBS schools. Appalachian State & UNC Charlotte are both in the process of transitioning to FBS which will soon make the State of North Carolina one of the most saturated college football markets. ECU will be feeling the squeeze of this over the next few years and the best for way to overcome this added in state competition will be by continuing to do exactly what they are doing now.
In the 1995 Liberty bowl against Stanford the Stanford marching band dedicated their half time show to East Carolina, “America’s forgotten state.” If ECU continues on this incredible trend they will no longer be an afterthought in the college football world.