FARGO — North Dakota State lost its March 6 football game against Indiana State after the Sycamores opted out of the spring football season earlier this week, but NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said that schedule void could be filled.
The Bison were slated to play eight Missouri Valley Football Conference games, beginning Feb. 21, due to the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the fall season.
“We’re going to try to take a look at the schedule and see if we can shuffle some things,” Larsen said Tuesday. “One of the benefits of having 11 schools in the league is there are multiple byes against certain teams, so there might be an opportunity to reshuffle it or not. I think we’re going to look at all those options and see if there’s the ability to maintain the eight league games.”
With Indiana State not taking part, the league has 10 operating programs for the upcoming spring. The Bison and seven other league members are currently down to seven games due to ISU’s decision, which was announced Monday, Jan. 11.
“The Conference is supportive of the difficult decision made by Indiana State and its administration,” said league commissioner Patty Viverito through the MVFC office.
Larsen said the league’s athletic directors and MVFC office have been meeting weekly on Wednesdays. He expects this week’s conference call to focus on the spring football schedule and potential options.
Larsen added the meeting is a chance for schools to voice their commitment to playing in the spring, with the start of that season a little more than a month away.
“That’s the one thing that I think we need to reaffirm (Wednesday) is that the remaining institutions committed at this point to move forward,” Larsen said. “What I would hate to do is, let’s build a schedule and then two weeks later somebody else opts out and we’re trying to build it again. I think that has to be Step 1, reaffirming that.”
Larsen said from the conversations he’s had to this point with other schools and officials in the MVFC, he gets the sense that the remaining 10 schools want to play this spring.
“From all indications that I’ve had ... it seems like they are fully committed to moving forward with the spring season,” Larsen said. “There’s been no indications from any (additional) schools that they are potentially looking to opt out this spring.”
Indiana State said its decision to not play in the spring was based on the spring season being stacked too closely to the 2021 fall season.
Part of the school’s Monday release read: “The Sycamores had the full backing of Indiana State University to play, but with both a spring and fall championship season, the Sycamores would play a minimum of 19 games in just under nine months, bypassing the necessary time for development and recovery.”
Larsen knew there was a chance a program could opt out for the spring with the dynamics of finances, health and safety concerns, and COVID-19 situations being different for each school.
“What we’ve realized with this whole pandemic is every school is in a different situation,” Larsen said. "Everybody has to handle it differently and do what’s best for them. I always assumed that there was potential that this could happen.”
Larsen said he's optimistic that spring football is doable even with its potential challenges, citing that the Football Bowl Subdivision completed its fall season early this week with the national title game, overcoming COVID-19 hurdles along the way.
The Bison played one football game in the fall and are forging ahead with its winter sports teams, including men’s and women’s basketball. The Bison basketball teams have also been able to play in front of larger crowds with safety guidelines in place with the state's COVID-19 numbers improving.
“There’s a lot more games being played than not and I think that’s all positive,” Larsen said. “To me, I’m much more optimistic that we are going to be able to move forward with a spring (football) season.”