(Stats Perform) – Recent decisions in FCS college football about playing games this fall give a mixed message.
All 13 conferences postponed their league schedule to what they hope will be a spring season due to concerns over the COVID-19 global pandemic. They cited the health and safety of student-athletes as a priority.
Six conferences, however, gave member schools the discretion to play nonconference games, mostly on a limited scale. Those opportunities lead to the question: Why would the decision-making presidents groups in the Big South, CAA Football, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Southern and Southland conferences say it’s safe to play out of conference if they’re don’t deem it wise to play in-conference this fall?
The conferences work for the schools, not vice versa, so the decisions reflect school intentions. Initially after each decision, a bunch of schools sought to keep their nonconference games and even add some, but the list has dwindled to about 15 possible schools.
There are different reasons to keep playing in nonconference. A school may be located in a state with a relatively low rate of coronavirus, and it may be doing well with testing on-campus. Also, some schools may play football in one conference as an associate member, but are considered a full member of another conference, where provides different direction. There also isn’t a guarantee college football will have a spring season.
Still, one other factor hangs over the decision to allow a nonconference schedule this fall – the desire to play FBS schools. The larger paychecks from those games annually go far in funding athletic budgets, which this year have been ravaged by the pandemic. There are contractual obligations, of course, but schools and conferences up and down Division I have canceled games in the fall semester.
Some FCS schools moving forward with fall games have FCS competition, but FBS games are attractive. Campbell, a Big South member, and Eastern Kentucky, from the Ohio Valley, have doubled their one scheduled FBS opponent to two. Southland member Houston Baptist has gone from having one FBS opponent, North Texas, to three by adding Texas Tech and Louisiana.
“Some of these games are obviously against the FBS opponents if they are sustained here in the next few weeks,” said Southland commissioner Tom Burnett, acknowledging the fluid conditions on campuses. “I think as part of those updated game agreements is that our institutions are going to have to meet the very same testing standards that our opponents are. It’s my understanding, my belief that our administrators – the AD and the presidents’ level – retained some comfort with that. Certainly, I can see the question being asked, but I think individually they were confident that they were going to be able to meet those standards for those games.”
North Dakota State, which has won three straight and eight of the last nine FCS national titles, sought nonconference games, but the MVFC member fell short of its goal and announced last week it will not have a schedule this fall.
“I know we were excited about (nonconference) at first, when we knew there was still half the teams out there and there was a wide variety of teams that were looking for games,” coach Matt Entz said.
“We had lost our original first three nonconference games, had gentleman’s agreements with some other schools to fill those and it just became like dominoes – one league led to another league and then individual schools. We’re down to what, maybe 15 FCS schools that might be playing football this fall. And with that, there’s still no guarantee those games will even go on.”
Health and safety are important to everybody, so schools and conferences have basically exhausted every effort to make the fall season work. The decision to play nonconference games or not was left up to the schools in the six conferences, and they have a right to do so.
At best, though, it’s a gray area given the presidents groups didn’t feel it was safe to play all games.