FARGO — North Dakota State head coach Matt Entz hopes that playing in the spring doesn’t prove to be a detriment to the Division I Football Championship Subdivision in the future.
In recent weeks, numerous games have been canceled and postponed, and multiple programs have opted out during the season.
“You hate to see FCS football not happen,” Entz said Monday of all the missed games during his weekly press conference. “It’s a tough deal. … I hope it doesn’t hurt our brand of football moving forward.”
The Missouri Valley Football Conference moved its conference games from the fall to the spring due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The NCAA also moved the FCS playoffs to the spring.
Entz said NDSU was a proponent of playing the entire season during the fall when most FBS programs played, along with some FCS teams. The Bison had one game last October as the MVFC allowed its teams to play nonconference contests during the fall.
The Bison (5-1, 4-1 MVFC) are slated to play Northern Iowa at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 10, at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa. They haven’t played since March 20, having their past two games affected due to COVID-19 testing protocols.
Wofford was the latest program to opt out, with that announcement coming Monday around the time of Entz’s weekly press conference. The South Dakota State-South Dakota game was also canceled Monday. The MVFC has only had three games played since March 20, the last time the conference had a full slate of games. The FCS playoffs are set to start on the weekend of April 24.
“It’s frustrating,” Entz said. “All I can worry about is the Bison right now. That’s what I’m trying to keep my mind on. If you start allowing yourself to think about how it’s impacting everything, you can get real negative, real quick.”
Entz said the team had no positive COVID tests Monday morning, with another round of testing scheduled for Wednesday.
“That’s a sign in the right direction,” Entz said.
Northern Iowa (3-3, 3-3) and head coach Mark Farley have had only one spring season game canceled, which was an April 2 matchup at South Dakota.
“I’m heading into it with the anticipation that we are going to play,” Entz said of the upcoming game with the Panthers. “I know coach Farley is a football guy, he wants to see games happen.”
The Panthers feature a stingy defense, which is allowing 14.0 points per game. Entz said Northern Iowa sophomore Omar Brown is one of the top cornerbacks in the Missouri Valley.
After NDSU has had its past two games altered (one canceled and one postponed) due to COVID, Entz said that’s added another challenge in preparing for each game.
“It’s been extremely unique,” Entz said. “You try to get everybody fired up for a game and then you don’t have one. At some point that does take a toll on your football team. Then they start questioning it, will we have a game again? … We probably can’t get too excited earlier in the week. We need to be more mentally locked in.”
Entz said the Bison coaches have stressed fundamentals like blocking, tackling and execution in recent practices with the season disruption due to COVID-19.
“It’s no different than Game 1 of a season, those are the concerns you have because you haven’t done those things live for a while now,” Entz said.
The Bison lost a veteran defensive piece as senior cornerback Josh Hayes left the team. Entz said Monday that Hayes, from Lakeland, Fla., is looking to transfer to an FBS program closer to home, in part because Hayes has a young daughter who lives in that area. Entz said Hayes, who played in 52 games for NDSU, did everything that was asked of him while he was in the program.
Entz added the uncertainty of the spring has made it hard to navigate as a head coach.
“I just wish I had more answers for our players and that’s the frustrating piece,” he said. “As the head football coach, generally you’re supposed to have the answers, you are supposed to have the plan. … There isn’t necessarily an exact plan to what’s going on right now.”