East Carolina led the American Athletic Conference in football attendance two of the past three seasons and is ranked second behind only Cincinnati this year.
Its average crowd of 37,325, however, is its lowest since 2006 and is a decrease of more than 7,000 from a year ago With coach Scottie Montgomery’s team foundering at 1-6 and a defense that ranks dead last nationally at 50 points allowed per game, fans are abandoning the Pirates’ ship at an alarming rate.
The dissatisfaction has become so widespread on social media and the internet message boards that athletic director Jeff Compher felt compelled to issue an open letter this week, urging unhappy fans to put aside their feelings and attend Saturday’s homecoming game against Brigham Young.
“We ask Pirate Nation to fight with us, not against us,” Compher wrote. “We are stronger when we stand together and support each other.”
Compher, who has become increasingly unpopular with his school’s fan base as the season has deteriorated, acknowledged that things haven’t gone as well as planned when he fired popular coach Ruffin McNeill in favor of Montgomery in December 2015.
But he preached patience by classifying the program’s current status as a “renovation” rather than a rebuilding situation.
ECU has won just two of its last 16 games, with the only victories coming against UConn, after beginning the Montgomery era with two straight wins.
“Frankly, we are not where any of us wanted or hoped to be,” Compher wrote. “However, I can assure you we have not quit. We will continue to fight each and every day to get better, because that’s what Pirates do.”
Like Compher, senior wide receiver Davon Grayson also issued a statement through ECU’s official Twitter feed, urging fans not to give up on him and his teammates — saying that their support while the team is down is as important to the future of the program as the effort given by the players on the field.
“We want to show the young guys how it’s supposed to be, so that when their time comes they know how the stands are supposed to look,” said Grayson, the team leader with 37 catches for 631 yards and six touchdowns. ‘I’m just prepared to go out there and give the fans, my family, my team everything I have.
Saturday’s game against BYU might be ECU’s last best chance to win a game this season. The Cougars are also struggling, with only a season-opening victory against Portland State to show for its efforts thus far.
The matchup offers an intriguing contrast in that it pits the nation’s worst defense against a BYU offense that ranks 128th out of 129 FBS teams with an average of just 11.4 points per game.