FRISCO, Texas — It is not a given that Toyota Stadium will host the Football Championship Subdivision title game in the spring.
"I don't know that I'd go that far yet," said Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett, a member of the Team Frisco group that's hosted the championship game each January since 2011.
The NCAA has asked Toyota Stadium to keep open May 14-16, 2021, with the idea of having the game there but discussions haven't advanced beyond that point, according to Burnett.
The game is traditionally held the first or second Saturday in January, but FCS postponed its season to the spring of 2021 due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. All 13 FCS conferences postponed their fall seasons and the NCAA moved the playoffs to the spring.
The NCAA Division I board of directors on Tuesday, Sept. 22, approved a 16-team spring playoff for FCS football. That's smaller than the usual 24 teams in the championship bracket.
FCS will have 11 automatic qualifiers and five at-large teams. That's up from 10 auto-bids because the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, a Historically Black Universities and Colleges league that usually does not participate in the playoffs, will receive a berth in the postseason. The playoff pairings will be announced on April 18 and the title game will be held sometime between May 14-16, with the exact date to be determined.
"If we are able to pull this off and have a spring season and a spring championship, there's a pretty good chance we could play that game in Frisco," Burnett said. "But I don't know that anything is a given at this point."
North Dakota State and its fans have made Frisco, a north Dallas suburb, an annual destination by appearing in (and winning) eight of the last nine FCS championship games. The Bison defeated James Madison 28-20 last January.
Frisco mayor Jeff Cheney sounded more optimistic than Burnett.
"We have saved the date and look forward to hosting in the spring," Cheney said via email.
Some of Burnett's caution stems from concern over the pandemic.
"We don't know what the conditions are going to be around the country, or around here," said Burnett, whose office is based in Frisco. "They have had soccer matches at the stadium, with a reduced number of fans, but as of right now all the NCAA has done is ask us to hold the date."
FC Dallas, the Major League Soccer team that plays in Toyota Stadium, allows a maximum of 5,110 fans for its matches. That's about 25% of the stadium's listed capacity of 20,500.
Burnett said Team Frisco will begin the next steps toward hosting the May title game and "plan accordingly."
West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, chair of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee, said there was some discussion about an 18-team playoff bracket, but adding two teams would've added another week to the playoffs and that was deemed unacceptable.
"The big thing is can we get back to fall ball in the fall of 2021 and give our athletes a chance from a medical perspective to be recovered and ready to go," Lyons said. "A 16-team championship gives us the best chance to do that."
Lyons told ESPN that FCS schools can determine when they play their games and possibly spread them out over two semesters, they can't play more than 11 games and a championship in 13 weeks. The regular season must end by April 17.
That means the first round of the playoffs would be the weekend of April 24; the quarterfinals would be the weekend of May 1; and the semifinals would be May 8. The title game has a May 14-16 window, to accommodate television and give the stadium site flexibility.
The MEAC, Lyons said, always has the option of competing in the FCS playoffs but opts not to in normal years. Its champion instead goes to the Celebration Bowl, considered the HBCU national championship.
"The commissioners asked the NCAA for that consideration and, of course, it was granted," Lyons said.
Burnett's seven-team Southland Conference announced Tuesday it would play a six-game spring schedule that will run from Feb. 20 to April 10.
In a press release, the league said it built in two open weekends into the schedule to allow for flexibility.
"Each team will have multiple open dates during the slate to provide flexibility if schedule changes are necessary. Further, the NCAA has approved a maximum of eight total games in a 13-week period that begins Jan. 23, thus there may also be some non-conference opportunities available for Southland teams," the league said.
"We're going to play it out and see how things go," Burnett said.