Thursday night's nationally-televised football game between host East Carolina and Navy has been postponed due to flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew.
Navy football will have an unexpected bye this week due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Matthew.
The No. 25 Midshipmen, high off a 46-40 win over previously No. 6 Houston, were scheduled to play at East Carolina in a nationally televised game Thursday night, but the game has been postponed because of concerns about flooding in the area.
Hurricane Matthew delivered a serious blow to eastern North Carolina over the weekend, leading to 20 deaths, causing widespread power outages and stranding more than 1,500 in the city of Lumberton.
Concerns about additional flooding led East Carolina officials to postpone the football game. Navy and East Carolina will now meet on Nov. 19 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Both schools had an open date that Saturday. Game time and television information are yet to be announced.
East Carolina athletic director Jeff Compher said school administrators consulted with emergency management officials and decided the prudent decision was to shut down the university until at least Saturday. The impending crest of the Tar River is expected to impact Greenville and surrounding counties with deteriorating and dangerous travel conditions likely through late Saturday.
"Based on the latest information and projections we have received regarding the rising water level and subsequent adverse travel conditions in eastern North Carolina the remainder of the week, we feel it is necessary to ensure the safety of everyone involved," Compher said. "We are thankful for our colleagues at the U.S. Naval Academy for their compassion and understanding to assist us with this situation."
Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said he received a phone call from Compher early Monday morning providing notification the university was contemplating postponing the football game. Gladchuk told Compher the matter was entirely in the hands of East Carolina administrators, and Navy would wholeheartedly comply with whatever decision was made.
"Emergency officials in the region are very concerned about the rising water. The storm surge is expected to be significant and that is a major safety issue," Gladchuk said. "Apparently, the surrounding areas have already suffered major devastation. To not offer our unconditional support on this issue would be ludicrous."
Gladchuk has been on the other side of similar situations and said the host university must do whatever it deems necessary.
"You have to listen to the intelligence coming out of that particular community and use common sense," Gladchuk said. "To not respect the concerns of the East Carolina community would be irresponsible. Our reaction is predicated exclusively on the position of the East Carolina administration. It goes well beyond a football game. This is an institutional matter down there."
Compher said the eastern North Carolina region is already seeing worsening road conditions with several detours along Route 264, the main artery into Greenville from the west.
"There are also road closures from the north and south, so we are quickly becoming a little island," Compher said.
East Carolina students are currently on fall break and were due to return to campus Wednesday. Compher said school administrators did not want students traveling back to Greenville under such circumstances.
Adding to the travel woes is that Pitt-Greenville Airport closed indefinitely Sunday. Navy's football traveling party had been scheduled to fly into that airport.
A crowd approaching 40,000 was expected at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the Thursday night game, which would have been televised nationally by ESPN. East Carolina athletic officials had dubbed it a "blackout" game, with students and fans encouraged to wear all black clothing.
"Many of our season ticket holders travel a great distance to get here and that was a consideration," Compher said. "It certainly was not prudent to conduct a college football game under the conditions we're facing."
Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo had no problem with the decision, stating emphatically that safety should always come first.
"It really puts everything in perspective. There are things a lot more important than football," Niumatalolo said. "It's been a pretty devastating storm and there are people in North Carolina who have suffered. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of that region."
Navy was facing a short turnaround this week with the football team scheduled to travel on Wednesday. That meant the Midshipmen would have only gotten one day of practice in preparation for the Pirates.
"We'll adjust. We'll give the players a few days off and use this as a week to do some recruiting," Niumatalolo said.
Navy was not scheduled to practice Monday, but now will also not do so Tuesday and Wednesday. The Midshipmen will conduct practice Thursday and Friday and then take the weekend off. Niumatalolo said the coaching staff will now turn its attention to Memphis, which comes to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Oct. 22.
"We're kind of banged up after two very physical games against Air Force and Houston so this bye doesn't come at a bad time," Niumatalolo said. "We'll use this week to get some rest and recover physically."