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Opinion: Let East Carolina and SMU play each other in a bowl game

Following their bowl cancelations Sunday, the Pirates and Mustangs deserve an opportunity to compete in a postseason environment.

East Carolina v SMU Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On Sunday morning, shattering news struck two AAC programs almost simultaneously.

Within a two minute span, The Action Network’s breaking news reporter Brett McMurphy dropped two massive reports. At 10:51 a.m. ET, he announced the inaugural Fenway Bowl between SMU and Virginia would be canceled due to COVID-19 issues within Virginia’s program. At 10:53 a.m. ET, he reported the Military Bowl between East Carolina and Boston College would be canceled due to COVID-19 issues within Boston College’s program.

The Fenway Bowl in Boston was scheduled for an 11 a.m. ET kickoff on Dec. 29 and the Military Bowl in Annapolis was scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. ET kickoff on Dec. 27. Now that each AAC team’s ACC opponent cannot participate due to COVID-19 issues, there’s one practical solution — let SMU and East Carolina play each other in a bowl game.

Whether the location is Fenway Park or Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium or elsewhere, both teams operating on the East Coast should work with each other and with bowl organizers to plan a postseason matchup this December. Both rosters have been practicing tirelessly for weeks in preparation for their biggest game of the season, and all that work can come to fruition if this idea is implemented.

Bowl games and bowl victories are especially important to the college football landscape, and these programs — especially the seniors — deserve to finish out in a postseason environment if a safe and effective solution can be found. The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl already acted quickly in finding a replacement to play Wake Forest. After Texas A&M opted out of the game due to a shorthanded COVID-19 laden roster, the bowl fulfilled the vacancy with a 5-7 Rutgers team that wasn’t even holding practices. Impromptu scheduling decisions have been commonplace in the pandemic era and it’s time to make such decisions regarding these AAC cancelations.

When East Carolina clinched bowl eligibility in mid-November, it meant the world to the program. The Pirates had not witnessed a bowl game since 2014, but this year’s team finally scaled the mountaintop to claim its first winning season in seven years. Bowl appearances have been rare occurrences lately in Greenville and postseason victories have been even less common, as East Carolina only has two bowl wins in the last 20 seasons. Receiving the opportunity to build on that number is essential for a program that earned the opportunity to compete in the Military Bowl.

Although SMU has been more common in the bowl rotation in recent years, it’s been a while since the Mustangs brought hardware back to Dallas. SMU received a bid to the 2020 Frisco Bowl but could not participate due to COVID-19 issues within the program. Prior to Virginia’s COVID-19 issues, the Mustangs had a golden opportunity at securing the first postseason win since the 2012 Hawaii Bowl.

While East Carolina vs. SMU is an intra-conference matchup, the two AAC opponents did not duke it out on the field in 2021. Thus, a potential bowl game between the Pirates and Mustangs will serve as a fresh matchup and the winner will take home its first bowl victory in at least eight years. With 7-5 and 8-4 records, respectively, it’s also an evenly matched contest which should provide high entertainment value. There is a recent precedent in terms of intra-conference bowl games. Nevada and Colorado State clashed in the 2015 Arizona Bowl despite sharing membership in the Mountain West — however, the teams did not square off in the regular season.

On Sunday night, a third ACC team joined Virginia and Boston College in opting out of its bowl game due to COVID-19 complications. Miami (FL) withdrew from its Sun Bowl matchup vs. Washington State, but as the Cougars search for a replacement team, McMurphy stated East Carolina and SMU have no plans to resume their seasons.

However, teams have reversed course on such decisions before. Before accepting the TaxSlayer Bowl invite, Rutgers was originally reported to deny the opportunity. Thus, anything remains on the table. And the fitting way for East Carolina and SMU to settle their accomplished seasons is to settle it on the gridiron with a trophy on the line.