EDITOR’S NOTE: This story updated as of 3:30 p.m. Friday (Aug. 7) — with James Madison update and Central Arkansas adding Sept. 19 game at Arkansas State
Just today, we’ve heard the official word from the Big Sky Conference and Pioneer League that they won’t play conference slates this fall, while Ross Uglem of BisonReport has gone public saying the Missouri Valley Football Conference — with defending national champion North Dakota State — has opted to attempt a move to the spring and will announce it later Friday.
As our Sam Herder has reported, that brings the number of FCS programs still standing to 47 schools out of 119 “playoff eligible” teams (39.7%), and that’s before you throw in the MVFC news Uglem reported around Noon ET on Friday. That’s well below the NCAA mandated 50-percent needed for postseason play.
But even when you subtract the MVFC, there are still nearly 40 FCS teams that are in four conferences that at least as of now haven’t said they’re ditching fall football. In fact, several schools have added FBS games to their slates just in the past 48 hours. VMI (at Virginia, Sept. 11) and Samford (at Florida State, Sept. 19) out of the Southern Conference have announced Power Five matchups, while Houston Baptist (at Texas Tech, Sept. 12) out of the Southland Conference and Tennessee Tech (at Southern Miss, Sept. 19) out of the Ohio Valley Conference have added FBS matchups this week.
Then, just this afternoon, Central Arkansas out of the OVC added a road trip to in-state FBS Arkansas State on Sept. 19. The Citadel is also holding out hope it may get Clemson’s lone “non-conference” game per ACC rules. That hasn’t been decided/announced as of the time this piece was published, and there is a Friday Tweet from Jeff Hartsell at the Charleston Post and Courier that 34 players didn’t show up today for The Citadel’s fall camp.
So, based on actions, one would think these conferences may still be considering making a “go” of this fall — FCS postseason or not.
For the SoCon, Southland, OVC and Big South Conferences — the FCS leagues that haven’t announced any changes as collective conferences — it begs the question: Will they move forward with football in the fall? Also, with the Big Sky, there is still a sliver of a chance that a few schools may be allowed to and still may choose to play out-of-conference games this fall.
Early Friday afternoon, I reached out to sources — at least one within each of the four “still standing” conferences — to ask if they had heard anything different in the last 24 hours since remaining FCS conferences began making definitive decisions about the fall. I didn’t have even one source say they’d heard any rock-solid conference plan to cease preparations for this fall.
Per one source, a coach within one of the four conferences: “As of today, our President and our AD are committed to playing”. And that was a consistent response, in similar wording, from those I talked to — from coaches to school and league administrators contacted. Obviously this can all change in a matter of weeks, days … or in this week’s case … hours, but that’s the feeling I received from multiple sources in these four leagues.
Another key source from one of the four conferences: “As of right now, we are full steam ahead. Obviously that can change. But as we sit? We’re being reassured by our administration we are playing. At the end of the day, we are going to have our student athletes’ health and best interests at heart. I believe they want to find a way to play and play in the most healthy environment possible.”
One source did say though that the more the indecision moves forward, the more the players may choose to opt out, which would obviously affect plans to play this fall.
Also, while James Madison announced this afternoon its intentions to move to spring — fellow CAA member Elon hasn’t announced any change yet in trying to play independently, though it would seem to be tough to put together a schedule. After their league cancelled its fall slate, the two CAA schools had said they’d try to play an independent schedule this fall, prior to this week’s barrage of news.
One big “week zero” matchup hasn’t changed as of Friday afternoon. The FCS Guardian Credit Union Kickoff Classic, which is scheduled for Aug. 29 between the OVC’s Austin Peay and Southland’s Central Arkansas — both FCS Playoff teams from a year ago — is still on. It will be played at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. and is to be televised on the ESPN Network.
To answer the obvious questions that will come from people questioning why any FCS school would play? I think it must be stated here what many know, but not as many bring up: These FBS/P5 “payout games” are massively important to a vast majority of FCS programs. We have a lot of fun talking about the David and Goliath matchups each fall, and every once in awhile an FCS team will knock off an FBS team and the entire level rejoices.
But when you get to the practical side of college football (you know, the finances), the FCS level is very much like a middle-income family. You take a year’s salary away from it and the family won’t starve and they probably have enough savings to keep their home — but it’s going to be a painful year (sound familiar, anybody?). The reality is, there is a financial routine with these schools, and this CoVid Pandemic has altered it greatly. You may sympathize or you may not, but that’s the reality of what’s going on.
Now, obviously, we wait. Again. For the umpteenth time.