RICHMOND, Va. — The Colonial Athletic Association announced Friday, July 17, the suspension of fall football competition as a conference due to the coronavirus pandemic. The league also added it would explore playing football during the spring.

The CAA is considered among the top FCS conferences along with the Missouri Valley Football Conference in which North Dakota State is a member.

The Bison played CAA member James Madison for the FCS national championship last January in Frisco, Texas.

“I think any time there is another FCS conference that is canceling or postponing, at some level it’s going to impact what we’re doing,” NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said. “The majority of FCS conferences are still looking or planning on playing football so I think that’s a positive. The more and more that decide to postpone that’s going to impact the Valley in some way shape or form.

“Right now, again, we’re still planning on playing football this fall in some way shape or form.”

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The Bison have already lost two nonconference games on their schedule, at Oregon and at home against North Carolina A&T, due to decisions made in those teams’ leagues due to COVID-19.

Part of the CAA statement read: "In expressing an understanding of the uniqueness of the Conference’s composition (12 institutions that compete in other sports in four Division I Conferences), the geographical expansion of the Conference membership and the complexity of an ever-changing situation, the Conference’s Board of Directors also affirmed that the Conference’s policies would permit member institutions the ability to explore the option of pursuing playing an independent football schedule in the Fall of 2020."

The CAA is a 12-team FCS league that’s based in Richmond, Va.

James Madison announced Friday it would explore its options to play fall football and build an independent schedule. School athletic director Jeff Bourne said he would like to have at least an eight-game schedule if the Dukes are able to play fall football.

“Our plan so far with football has been, we feel like that decision was possibly made in a hurried manner by some institutions, but they find themselves in a different spot than where we do at James Madison,” Bourne said during a conference call. “As a result, we decided we wanted more time to evaluate it and we’re also keeping a close watch on other conferences more aligned in the mid-Atlantic and to the South of the country.

“We are firmly committed to making sure that we do things the right way. I think we have a good track record of that. … As long as the NCAA still provides those championships, national championships, we are going to try to have our teams be in a position to be able to compete.”

The Bison and James Madison have developed a rivalry in recent history, playing for the FCS national championship in two of the past three seasons with NDSU winning both title games. The Dukes knocked off the Bison in the 2016 FCS semifinals, ending NDSU’s string of five consecutive national crowns.

“The biggest thing is when you look at the geographic makeup of the CAA, one, being on the East Coast, two, having a pretty significant split between north and south, and then obviously on the north side, there’s a handful of schools in New York that can’t have people traveling from different states,” Larsen said. “I think they are just in states where some of their institutions just may not be able to participate. I’m sure that’s what drove most of that decision making.”

Bourne said JMU has had conversations with both FCS and FBS schools as the Dukes look at building a football schedule without conference play. He added JMU would like to keep the three nonconference games currently on its schedule. Bourne said in adding games to the schedule, he would prefer contests that could be bus trips.

“There will be a range of institutions out there, both FCS and FBS, that are within a geographical footprint of James Madison where we could make that happen,” Bourne said.

The CAA is the second FCS conference in as many days to cancel or suspend fall football due to COVID-19. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) canceled its fall sports on Thursday, July 17.

North Carolina A&T is in the MEAC and was scheduled to play a Sept. 19 game at the Fargodome. The Bison have nine games remaining on their fall football schedule.

“I would say we have some optimism, although it’s not as strong as it’s been of late, but I think in the Midwest we are in a much different space than the two coasts are,” Larsen said. “Again, with the idea we still want to do it in a very healthy manner for everyone involved. We’re still holding out hope that there is an opportunity to play football at some point this fall and exhaust all those options and opportunities before we look at other scenarios.”

Larsen said if the NCAA decided to shift fall championships to the spring, that would affect NDSU’s decision.

“If all of a sudden the NCAA was going to transfer the FCS championship to the spring that would absolutely drive a lot of our decision,” Larsen said. “We want to play football, but if there is an opportunity to compete for a conference championship and ultimately access to the playoffs, we’d like to do that. That would weigh heavily on our decision.”