First game for Bison spring football will depend on FCS championship date

Indications are first regular season game could be on March 13

Missouri Valley Football Conference commissioner Patty Viverito is a strong proponent for a 16-team Division I FCS playoff format for the spring with the fall football season postponed due to COVID-19. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — The postponement of fall sports to the spring in the Missouri Valley Football Conference and Summit League was made because of the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now comes the hard part.

How will it all fit in March, April and May?

That decision, MVFC commissioner Patty Viverito said, will be a process of figuring out an end date and working backwards. Built into that model most likely will be either a 12- or 16-team FCS playoffs, a regular season consisting of conference games only, 29 days of practice and five days of acclimatization workouts in front of that.

The NCAA Oversight Committee, of which Viverito is a member, has appointed a working group that includes four FBS conferences that aren’t playing in the fall and two representatives from the FCS including Viverito.

It’s possible a decision could come at the NCAA Division I Council meeting in mid-September. The Council will also determine the size of the FCS playoff bracket.


“I think this is all going to play out in bits and pieces,” Viverito said.

A current model, but not acted upon yet, is to hold the FCS title game in mid-May. If that is the case, and Valley teams play eight games plus taking into account the practice days, the first game could be March 13.

Practice would start in that scenario around Feb. 8 with acclimatization beginning Feb. 1.

“I’m confident the Football Oversight Committee is giving it the attention it deserves,” Viverito said. “The student-athlete voice in it has been very strong.”

Also to be determined with the FCS bracket, which currently consists of 24 teams, but will be reduced in the spring, is the conference automatic-qualifier component. Currently, 10 leagues get a ticket to the playoffs. A 12-team bracket, Viverito said, probably wouldn’t be conducive to AQs.

“I remain a strong advocate of a 16-team bracket,” she said.

The entire spring scenario is contingent on the NCAA Board of Governors approving on Friday, Aug. 21, the Division I Council's recommendation of moving fall sports to spring.

Whatever the timeline, NDSU’s facilities and staff will be taxed from January through May. NDSU’s medical training staff should be able to handle the load since every sport has its own people. Scott Woken, NDSU’s associate athletic director for internal operations and a longtime trainer, said it won’t be much different than October and November when every sport is operating in some capacity.


“October and November, in a normal year, are by far our busiest months,” Woken said.

Normally, football is in the middle of its Valley season and soccer, cross country and volleyball are in the midst of their Summit seasons. Men’s and women’s basketball and wrestling are beginning practice. Golf has a fall schedule. Baseball and softball have fall practice schedules and games.

“It really will be no different than we have now in October and November,” Woken said.

What will be different will be the game or match venues. It’s doubtful the Missouri Valley will be cognizant of the schedules of the Summit, meaning at NDSU it’s possible a home football game could come on the same weekend as a volleyball, soccer, track and field, cross country, baseball or softball competition.

Baseball plays a three-game series over three days. Softball plays its three-game series over two days with one day being a doubleheader. What if NDSU hosts an indoor or outdoor track and field meet? It’s still uncertain how cross country and track and field will mesh together in a spring.

Add in events the Fargodome normally hosts like a farm, boat or craft show and things could get crowded. Woken did say, however, that the dome normally lightens its load in April and May since most Bison spring football practice scrimmages over the years have been on a Saturday.

“It will be almost impossible to be fair to everybody,” Woken said.

Starting Monday, Division I football programs will be allowed to work with players for 20 hours of week with walkthrough practices, strength and conditioning and meetings. That was passed by the Division I Council earlier this week and will last through Oct. 5.


“That bought ourselves some time to come up with a model to see what the rest looks like,” Viverito said.

And looking ahead even further, she said a starting date for the fall of 2021 will depend on what the NCAA medical advisory groups “tell us what is reasonable.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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