FARGO — To the surprise of nobody paying attention, North Dakota State's football game against rival South Dakota State scheduled for Saturday has been postponed. COVID-19 issues in the Bison program are to blame. It's the second consecutive week NDSU was forced to call off a game for the same reason.
An ill-advised spring football season that until a few days ago looked like a farce from afar looks like a close-up farce now.
Unlike the NDSU-South Dakota game last weekend, the Bison-Jackrabbits game wasn't canceled. It was merely postponed until April 17. That means the Bison have two games remaining on their regular-season schedule — April 10 at Northern Iowa and April 17 at the Fargodome against the Jackrabbits for the Dakota Marker trophy.
Anybody willing to bet their week's paycheck that both of those games, or even one, will be played?
Yessir, time to look ahead to the fall. 41% No way, only pansies voluntarily stop playing football. 19% Only stop if the NCAA cancels the playoffs. 40%
Should NDSU ends its spring football season?
Thank you for voting!
Yessir, time to look ahead to the fall.
No way, only pansies voluntarily stop playing football.
Only stop if the NCAA cancels the playoffs.
Yeah, me neither.
I could use this space to again hammer my belief that this silly FCS spring should be called off immediately from the top because it's devolved into a COVID-riddled mess with weekly postponements, cancellations and teams opting-out of the remainder of the season for various reasons.
We now have a team, Chattanooga, that was nationally ranked and appeared headed for a playoff berth ... before its coach decided to bench his upperclassmen and play freshmen because he wanted to prepare for the fall season. When the outcry over that maneuver became too much, Chattanooga simply pulled the plug on the season.
- Bison, SDSU Dakota Marker game postponed to April 17
- NDSU-SDSU game among mounting FCS COVID-19 schedule changes
- McFeely: Biggest question isn't who will win, but whether NDSU-SDSU game will be played
- Entz: Performance anxiety has turned to testing anxiety with Dakota Marker game on tap
- McFeely: Time to call off the spring FCS season
See you in the fall, Mocs. Your courage for making such a wise decision should be applauded.
Unfortunately, it's clear there are few others in the FCS orbit with similar conviction. So instead of someone doing the right thing, the FCS season will lurch toward its logical conclusion of a flawed 16-team playoff field (which still might include NDSU, by the way) playing for a bid in an asterisked national title game in Frisco, Texas, where an asterisked champion will be crowned.
Celebrate good times! Come on!
There are those, my friend Sam Herder at HERO Sports leading the charge, who are all-in on completing the spring season no matter how many programs are left standing. His consistent argument has been: We knew there were going to be bumps, so we just have to deal with them and move forward.
That's fair, but flawed. There is a point where the cancellations and postponements reach critical mass and coaches and athletic directors will have to throw up their hands and say, "That's enough." The situation with teams opting-out and games being affected by COVID is getting worse the last couple of weeks, not better. If critical mass isn't here, it's close enough to smell.
The trouble is, the one entity that could end the FCS season immediately is the NCAA. If the boys and girls in Indianapolis simply said, "With the health and safety of our student-athletes in mind, we are canceling the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, including the championship game. We look forward to a competitive season in the fall of 2021, culminating in a championship game in Frisco in January 2022," every FCS team would end its spring season. With no trophy on the line, there would be no reason to play.
That isn't going to happen. There is the likelihood nobody at the NCAA knows there is a spring FCS season being played, given the organization's focus on its men's basketball tournament that rakes in billions of dollars. The NCAA isn't going to lift a finger when it comes to FCS.
That would leave the best option for ending the FCS season to a handful of "power" conferences, namely the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the Colonial Athletic Association and the Big Sky Conference. If those three leagues, or even two of them, said they were going to shut down the rest of the season and not participate in the playoffs, it's likely the rest of FCS would see fit to do the same. Maybe the Southland Conference and the Southern Conference would continue, given the culture toward football and COVID in the south, but it seems unlikely.
For the three power conferences to make a move, which would have to be pushed by the league's presidents, also is dubious. There seems to be little stomach among leaders in those conferences to admit the spring season is ill-conceived. The commissioners of the Valley and the Big Sky are both public cheerleaders of the spring season and the CAA this week changed a key rule regarding the conference's postseason automatic bid, so it appears to be prepping for the playoffs.
Absent a sweeping declaration the season is finished, perhaps it's time NDSU makes the decision on its own.
At what point does Bison head coach Matt Entz go to his athletic director, Matt Larsen, and president, Dean Bresciani, and say, "It's time. The kids want to play, but the stress and uncertainty of this season is wearing on them and it's time we remove the stress and give them certainty. Let's stop this season and focus on the fall. Get back to normal. That's what is best for everybody."
To be clear, the chance of this happening is probably less than 1%. NDSU doesn't want to voluntarily end its season. "The Bison play football," is the macho phrase on which NDSU football types hang their helmets. Politically, NDSU doesn't want to be seen as bailing out on a season. It doesn't want to be tagged as a program that "quit," especially since the Bison are the undisputed kings of FCS.
I also believe that no matter Entz's personal feelings about this spring season, he's wanted to give the players a chance to practice and compete in as normal of a setting as possible. At his regular Monday press conference, Entz talked about how some players from last fall's team were having issues because the season was called off and they were having identity crises as a result. So there are other issues besides "this season is stupid" to take into consideration.
There is the argument to be made that if players want to play, let them play. It's supposed to be about them, right?
There are money matters involved, too. To think otherwise would be naïve.
But at some point the wisdom of playing a fractured, stop-and-go season that will forever be attached with an asterisk must be questioned. And at some point, the wisdom of putting players in harm's way for this flawed season must also be questioned. An serious injury now would mean a player would have to miss the fall season, too.
Is it worth it? The Bison are going to be good — like, fully-loaded good — in the fall. When should the focus be on that season instead of this messed-up, compromised one?
Now might be a good time. If the NCAA or the conferences aren't going to pull the plug on the spring season, maybe it's time NDSU makes that call on its own. At some point the big picture has to matter.