ECU-Marshall moved up to remember ’70 tragedy

East Carolina and Marshall have been granted a waiver by the NCAA to play their season opener on Aug. 29 — a week earlier than originally scheduled — at ECU’s Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium as a tribute to the 75 people who died almost 50 years ago in the Marshall plane crash.

Jon Gilbert, East Carolina’s athletic director, said ESPN has committed to televising the 50th anniversary game on one of its networks.

“We plan to invite family members of the players from both teams who played in the game,” Gilbert told ESPN. “Both programs will forever be linked, and we are honored to recognize the 75 people who lost their lives.”

A chartered jet carrying the Marshall team was returning from a game at East Carolina on Nov. 14, 1970, when it crashed into a hillside 2 miles from the Tri-State Airport in Kenova, West Virginia. All 75 people onboard were killed in the worst disaster in American sports history.

Included in the waiver letter submitted to the NCAA by East Carolina, in conjunction with Marshall, was a bio of every person who lost his or her life in the crash. Marshall football players, coaches, team doctors, athletic administrators, media members and university boosters were among those killed in the crash.

A portion of Gilbert’s letter read: “The NCAA can help celebrate the victims and their legacy, including Jim Adams, a football student-athlete who never met his daughter because she was born on the day he was buried; and Jeff Nathan, a very optimistic student reporter for The Parthenon, who didn’t have the chance to write his 30th ‘Hoof Beat.’ … These 75 people and their families deserve to be recognized in a special way.”

A letter from Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick was included in the waiver request.

“Marshall University, the city of Huntington, WV and East Carolina University take great pride in never forgetting the people that gave their lives on that day and having an opportunity to show this on national television would be a great privilege,” Hamrick wrote.

This year’s game had originally been scheduled for Sept. 5, but Gilbert felt like playing it in “Week Zero” and having the opportunity to televise all of the special programming surrounding the 50th anniversary would be the best way to honor the victims and their families.

As part of the waiver being granted, East Carolina and Marshall will be allowed to begin practice a week earlier (July 31) with the condition being that both schools will provide seven additional days off to their teams during the 2020 football season.

This will be the first time East Carolina and Marshall have played since the 2013 season. They used to compete against each other as Conference USA rivals, but ECU is now a member of the American Athletic Conference.

Gilbert closed his letter to the NCAA by referencing the inscription on the Memorial Fountain on Marshall’s campus: “They shall live on in the hearts of their families and friends forever.”

“If this 50th anniversary game is permitted on August 29, 2020, the NCAA will assist in honoring the families, friends, former teammates and coaches, who live to remember that tragic day,” Gilbert wrote.

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