FARGO — Canceled games are stacking up as the Missouri Valley Football Conference limps toward the end of the regular season, but the league has no intention of halting its schedule before the FCS playoffs.
After the league announced South Dakota's game Friday at Northern Iowa had been canceled because of COVID-19 issues in the Coyote program, the Valley has now had eight games canceled or postponed in the last week, covering two weekends. Plus, Illinois State called off the rest of its season March 24 because head coach Brock Spack felt depth issues threatened the health of his remaining players.
"The MVFC has already reached NCAA thresholds for designating an AQ, and we are motivated to play as many games as possible to give our teams the best opportunity for at-large selection," league associate commissioner Mike Kern said in a statement. "Despite the developments of the last two weekends, our conference has scheduled more league games and played more games than any other FCS league this spring."
That is a positive spin on a worsening situation. The only game left on the schedule this weekend is Saturday's game between Youngstown State and Western Illinois in Macomb, Ill., a contest between two teams that aren't in the playoff chase.
With USD's COVID issues, one has to question whether the April 10 game between the Coyotes and South Dakota State is in danger. And Northern Iowa, out of the playoffs and now with only one game remaining, is set that weekend to host a North Dakota State team that has had two games called off because of COVID.
There are eight games remaining on the conference slate, including five with league title and playoff implications. How many will be played?
Not that the Valley is the only FCS league having issues getting to the finish line. The Colonial Athletic Association is also losing games at a quickening pace, to the point the league changed its championship tiebreaking procedure to give it more leeway to select a regular-season champion and the automatic bid that goes with it.
On Thursday, No. 1-ranked James Madison had its final two conference games at Richmond and Elon postponed because of COVID issues with the Spiders and Phoenix. The Daily News-Record of Harrisonburg, Va., reported the Dukes are searching to schedule games April 10 and April 17. James Madison is 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the CAA, meaning its reached the minimum number of games needed to be eligible for the postseason.
In the Valley, four teams can still win the regular-season championship and the conference's auto bid to the 16-team playoffs. As Kern referenced in his statement, the league believes it will also secure an at-large bid or two.
NDSU, South Dakota State, North Dakota and Missouri State are all 4-1. Only the Bison control their destiny.
If NDSU wins out (or doesn’t play the UNI game but only beats SDSU) it would hold the tiebreaker against any of the other possible tied teams, according to the Valley's tiebreaker formula.
If NDSU finishes at either 5-1 or 6-1 in a tie with either UND or MSU (or both) at 5-1, the Bison would get the title because the tiebreaker formula says "if the tied teams did not play each other, but one team played and defeated the other two teams, that team is the champion." UND and MSU won’t play one another but NDSU would have beaten them both.
Given the uncertainty of the remaining Valley schedule, trying to map out scenarios for the other teams is a dicey proposition.
NDSU, SDSU and UND would all be in the postseason discussion even if they don't win the auto bid. Missouri State, which played and lost three games last fall and has an overall record of 4-4, has to win the league title to make the playoffs.
Here are the remaining scheduled games that factor into the conference race:
* Youngstown State at Missouri State
* South Dakota at South Dakota State
* North Dakota State at Northern Iowa
* North Dakota at Youngstown State
* South Dakota State at North Dakota State