FARGO — There won't be a spring season in the Football Championship Subdivision.
There, I said it. Out loud and for all to read.
It might not be the hottest of hot takes, I hinted at the same idea in August, but somebody needed to lay it out there.
While I write those words as a prediction and not a statement of fact, I believe I'll be proven correct. And I think there are many in the FCS world, including coaches and athletic directors, who agree.
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Some might even hope for such an outcome. They just can't say it out loud.
To be clear, I've spoken with exactly zero sources in making this prediction. Nobody from North Dakota State, the football program I cover reguarly. Nobody from the Missouri Valley Football Conference, of which the Bison are members. Nobody from the NCAA.
But I have a (semi-)functioning brain and large dollop of common sense — and I know how FCS football operates after covering it and writing about it for nearly 20 years — so I'm willing to take a shot.
My pessimism for a spring season stems from three areas: COVID, money and player safety.
Is there anything that makes you optimistic the United States will be in a better position in two or three months in regards to the pandemic than it is today?
If so, please share. Or stop doing drugs. Because nothing happening in mid-November can make you look to mid-January (when teams will start practice) or mid-February (when games are scheduled to begin) and say, "Things will be back to normal."
COVID numbers are exploding everywhere. Deaths are skyrocketing. Hospitals are being overrun. We are still fighting over whether wearing a mask is good or bad, smart or stupid, safety or tyranny. It's madness, everywhere you look.
And, we're told, the worst days are ahead.
Even with Joe Biden taking the White House from Donald Trump, and at least attempting to have a plan at fighting the virus and distributing any vaccines that might be ready in the coming months, the timeline is unfriendly to a spring FCS schedule. Biden will be inaugurated Jan. 20 and he'll be starting from scratch, given how Trump is blocking his transition.
Vaccines, while being touted as "the light at the end of the tunnel" are still months from wide distribution, perhaps even a month or two from approval.
Add it up, and we'll still be in the ugly muck of the COVID fight come February. Teams will have problems staying virus-free and it's unlikely large crowds will be allowed to attend games (particularly inside, NDSU fans).
Which leads to my next point.
NDSU, one of the most financially successful FCS programs, lost money on its single fall game against Central Arkansas. That's because while the Bison planned on having about 10,000 ticket-buying fans in the Fargodome seats, the city of Fargo asked NDSU officials to rethink their plan (or coerced them, depending on your point of view) and Bison athletics officials grudgingly limited attendance to only a few hundred family members.
The $100,000 guarantee NDSU paid Central Arkansas was flushed, plus any other costs associated with game-day operations.
So, if the country is still in COVID mode in the spring and attendance will be banned or severely limited in many states, what is the incentive for playing games? If the NDSUs, Northern Iowas and North Dakotas (programs that draw decent attendance) aren't going to be able to make money off home football games, why would those institutions want to play a full schedule (including travel, which is incredibly expensive) and potentially lose millions of dollars?
And if you're a school like Indiana State or Western Illinois that doesn't draw fans or generate revenue off your football program anyway, why would you want the added expense of a full spring season? Especially when you have zero chance of making the playoffs and competing for a championship?
There is literally no incentive for about 100 FCS programs to compete in a spring season in the midst of a pandemic — they'll lose more money than they normally would in an already-difficult financial situation in college sports AND they have no real opportunity to make a shrunken playoff field and make a run toward Frisco, Texas.
Why would they want to play two money-losing seasons in a calendar year when you can limit it to one? There will be schools looking for any reason to bail out on the spring season when the time comes.
It is my belief — and again, it is pure speculation — that a goodly number of FCS coaches would have no problem if the spring season is cancelled. Mostly out of concern for their players' health and safety but also just because they'd prefer to avoid the weirdness and get things back to normal in the fall of 2021.
Coaches know that trying to play eight or 10 or 12 games in the spring and then turning around and trying to get their teams rested and healthy before a full fall season is a potential recipe for disaster. The chance of players not fully recovering from the spring season and perhaps enhancing their chances of injury in the fall season is great.
One Big Sky Conference program, Sacramento State, said as much when it opted out of playing in the spring. Good for the Hornets and head coach Troy Taylor. More schools should make the same decision.
It has nothing to do with manliness or toughness or softness. It's simply the fact of playing a brutally physical sport like football. The human body needs time to recover and, particularly for playoff teams who will play into May, two months isn't enough time until fall camp starts.
And other than a handful of programs like NDSU and James Madison, how many teams have the depth to withstand a rash of banged-up, tired players and injuries?
Coaches might feel like they are trapped and can't say anything, though, for fear of being labeled as a program that doesn't want to play. Might players transfer? Might other schools use it in negative recruiting? They might be legitimate concerns, but football being football not many coaches will speak out.
My guess is that many, perhaps a strong majority, of FCS coaches and administrators would prefer to cancel the spring season and look forward to getting things back to normal in the fall of 2021. It is much more likely that we'll have a better handle on the pandemic by then, college campuses might return to something near-normal, and the slate will be "clean" for everybody.
There'll be no worries over a spring season causing more injuries or teams being overly fatigued. Each team will start with a level playing field and full rosters after the extreme oddness of the fall 2020/spring 2021 FCS mess.
The prediction stands: There will be no FCS season in the spring and, while they will issue statements lamenting that fact, coaches and ADs will be privately happy and looking forward to the normality of a fall 2021 season.
Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at email@example.com or (701) 451-5655