FARGO — The Football Championship Subdivision will kick off its very abbreviated and possibly soon-to-be doomed fall season Saturday, Aug. 29, when Central Arkansas plays Austin Peay in the FCS Kickoff game in Montgomery, Ala. It is one of nine games Central Arkansas has scheduled between now and Nov. 21, as close to a full slate as you'll find in the subdivision during this coronavirus pandemic. The Bears are scheduled to play at North Dakota State on Oct. 3, the Bison's only scheduled game for the fall.
While most FCS conferences and their members shut down their fall seasons in hopes of playing some kind of schedule in the spring, Central Arkansas took a completely different tact. Athletic director Brad Teague explained to WDAY-AM radio host Dom Izzo recently that the Bears were going all-in on a fall season because of the uncertainty of a spring season that has been dangled by the NCAA.
"Is the spring viable, can it work? What's going to be different about the virus at that point from now? There was a concern from our players that if we can get it done right now, let's get it done now," Teague told Izzo.
I've been skeptical of a spring season from the start, too, especially from a coronavirus standpoint. I wrote a column a few weeks ago asking the same question Teague asked: What's going to be different? With no federal leadership and no clear plan of action, we're handling the virus poorly as a nation.
There is an added twist recently. I've talked to a number of college athletics sources who are increasingly doubtful there will be a spring season not only because of the virus, but because of the near-impossible logistics of having two football seasons in the small window between spring and fall of 2021.
There is a growing belief that the NCAA canceled the fall championship and said there would be a spring one knowing the spring season would eventually be canceled, or drastically reduced, too. The organization was buying time, as usual, kicking the can down the road, as usual.
My guess: At some point, talk will turn from there being an 8-game spring FCS regular-season schedule to there being a 4- or 5-game spring schedule. Player safety will be cited, and rightly so. And that will start the ball rolling toward the NCAA and conferences saying, "Let's just look ahead to a fall 2021 schedule and get things back on track to normality."
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And there goes the spring season.
It's only a guess, nothing more. But trying to fit two college football schedules into one calendar year is asking for disaster.
So maybe Central Arkansas has the right idea if the goal is to play some games. Schedule as many in the fall as possible, try to keep the players safe by following the mandated coronavirus protocols and go as long as you can. If the Bears get in three games, they get in three games. If they get in six games, they get in six games. If they get in nine games, they get in nine games.
To be clear, this is not an endorsement of all of college football returning, as it appears there is a push to do in the FBS with the Big Ten apparently reversing course. I still don't believe with the expense of testing, the uncertainty of testing results and the lack of available testing that all 127 FCS teams could play a full schedule this fall. Combine that with the certainty of outbreaks and the cancellation of games, and trying to have everybody play would be a train wreck.
All I'm saying is that Central Arkansas made a decision that there will be no meaningful spring season, so its decision to get in as many games this fall before everything is shut down might be the right one in its case.
This is all based on the trust Central Arkansas is going to do things right, of course. And I still don't believe the Bears will get in all nine games. With coronavirus outbreaks happening on campuses all over the country, it's all but assured either the Bears or one of their opponents will have to cancel games. I'm still not sold that Central Arkansas and NDSU will play on Oct. 3 for that reason.
But if Central Arkansas believes there will be no spring season, or even one so greatly reduced as to make it meaningless, maybe its belief of trying to play as much as possible in the fall is the right one.