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Big Sky sacking a fall season would be blow to FCS playoffs

By CRAIG HALEY

Stats Perform FCS Senior Editor

(Stats Perform) - The Big Sky Conference helps carry the banner of FCS college football, but the largest conference in the Division I subdivision may be the next to raise a white flag on having a fall season.

The conference's presidents council held meetings on Thursday to determine the direction of their season, only a day before some members open their preseason camp. The council, whose vote is the determining factor, must decide if the health and well-being of student-athletes can be ensured during the season due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Skyline Sports reported Big Sky athletic directors presented a plan to the presidents to play an eight-game conference season in the spring semester with a three-game nonconference schedule either in the fall or spring semester.

Six of the 13 FCS conferences - the CAA, Ivy, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot and SWAC - announced last month they won't have a fall season and reportedly the Pioneer Football League voted on Thursday to join them. If a conference with the stature of the Big Sky cancels its fall season as well, it will all but be a death-knell for having FCS playoffs this fall.

The NCAA Board of Governors mandated on Wednesday they will be held only if 50 percent of eligible teams have a regular season, and the number would drop below the threshold with the Big Sky and Pioneer League staying on the sideline.

One factor that works against the Big Sky is geography. Many schools and conferences prefer to limit travel and play regional competition this fall, but the western-most FCS conference is spread out over eight states with members in Arizona (Northern Arizona), California (Cal Poly, Sacramento State and UC Davis), Colorado (Northern Colorado), Idaho (Idaho and Idaho State), Montana (Montana and Montana State), Oregon (Portland State), Utah (Southern Utah and Weber State) and Washington (Eastern Washington).

The ability to meet COVID-19 testing protocols likely factors into all FCS decisions. Also, a report from Stadium on Tuesday claimed three-quarters of Idaho's players don't want to play this fall because of concerns about contracting COVID-19. Similar fears are probably widespread across college football.

The Big Sky is considered one of the three strongest FCS conferences, along with the CAA and Missouri Valley Football Conference. Its members have combined for six FCS championships, and last year the conference became the first to earn four of the eight playoffs seeds, with Montana State and Weber State advancing to the national semifinals.

Like the Big Sky, other conferences that are still determining their direction for the fall are the Big South, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Southern and Southland.

Updated August 6, 2020

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