The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrinkle into 2020-21 NCAA sports scheduling, and FCS football is no exception. Below is the latest information on the state of this year's FCS season and the plans to host a revised championship in the spring.
First, a quick summary of what we know for this season, as of now:
- The fall championship, usually culminating in an early January title game, is still planned to be played — albeit in the spring this year.
- The championship is currently scheduled for April 18-May 15, with 16 teams making the playoff field as opposed to the usual 24.
- In this 16-team bracket, 11 teams will automatically qualify via conference championships. The remaining five will be at-large selections.
- Schools that opted to play games in the fall will have their results considered in the selection process for the spring championship field.
CHAMPIONSHIP NEWS: DI Council approves changes to 2020-21 FCS Championship
NCAA.com's Michella Chester recently sat down with Chad Tolliver, Associate Director of NCAA Championships, and Kyle Moats, FCS Committee Chair, to discuss the state of FCS football in 2020-21. Here are their answers to some FAQs surrounding this season's plans.
How is the 2020-21 FCS season going to work?
Sixteen schools across five conferences have played at least one game so far this fall (as of Nov. 8). But the majority of conferences and schools have elected to push their games to the spring and have begun to release details on their modified schedules. Here's the latest spring season info from each conference:
- Big Sky: 12 teams will play six conference games each, starting Feb. 27.
- Big South: Five teams will play four conference games each, starting March 13. Two teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- CAA: 11 teams will play six conference games each, starting March 6.
- MEAC: The conference previously announced a start date of Feb. 20. However, Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M have since announced they will not be playing.
- Ivy League: No spring season scheduled yet.
- MVFC: 11 teams will play eight conference games each, starting Feb. 20. Three teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- NEC: No spring season scheduled yet.
- OVC: Eight teams will play seven conference games each, starting Feb. 21. Four teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- Patriot League: No spring season scheduled yet.
- Pioneer League: No spring season scheduled yet.
- SoCon: Nine teams will play nine conference games each, starting Feb. 20. Three teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- Southland: Seven teams will play six conference games each, starting Feb. 20. Four teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- SWAC: 10 teams will play six conference games each, starting Feb. 27. The schedule also includes one non-conference open date for each team.
The last regular season games of the spring schedule, including conference championships, must come no later than April 17.
Once regular season play concludes, the 16-team playoff bracket will be revealed on Sunday, April 18. The four rounds will be conducted each of the next four weekends, ending with the national championship game on Saturday, May 15.
Tolliver confirmed that the national championship game will be played in Frisco, Texas, as originally planned. Toyota Stadium in Frisco has been host to the title game since 2010 and will remain the annual host through at least 2024.
"I'm happy to report that the folks in Frisco are on board and planning to serve as our host again this year in May," Tolliver said. "We're all looking forward to being in Frisco in mid-May."
How will the committee look at teams playing in the fall?
Some schools have decided to play a few non-conference games in the fall before beginning league play in February or March. Other programs have opted to solely play a non-conference slate in the fall.
All fall results will be considered in the spring when the championship field is announced, assured Moats. But he added that personnel changes — such as injuries — could be "one of the biggest things" the committee might look at, when it comes to evaluating teams' fall performances.
"We also have a number of schools — not a lot, but a handful — that have just determined that they're only going to play in the fall, for whatever reason," Tolliver added. "So the committee will need to figure out if that team is interested in participating in the championship in the spring, even if they're not playing any games [in the spring]."
How does automatic qualification into this year's championship work?
Eleven conference champions will earn automatic berths into this year's playoff field, one more than the usual 10. This includes the addition of the MEAC champion, as the conference has opted into the FCS championship following the cancelation of the 2020 Celebration Bowl. Under normal circumstances, the Celebration Bowl pits together the conference champions from the SWAC and MEAC.
In addition to the MEAC, here are the other conferences who will receive automatic qualification into the 2020-21 field: Big Sky, Big South, Colonial Athletic Association, Missouri Valley Football Conference, Northeast Conference, Ohio Valley Conference, Patriot League, Pioneer Football League, Southern Conference and Southland Conference.
According to Tolliver, each conference must have at least three schools participating in football in order to be eligible for automatic qualification.
This leaves five spots for at-large selections in the 16-team playoff field.
How will the rest of the FCS playoff field be determined?
How will at-large teams be chosen, in a season that allows scarce opportunities for non-conference play and inconsistent scheduling models from conference to conference? That's the "million-dollar question," acknowledged Moats.
"It's going to be really difficult to determine because with the unlevel playing field in terms of games being played, we're going to have to look at the team completely with all the criteria that we do have," Moats said.
First, here's what's known for sure, as far as playoff criteria goes: Tolliver said the championship committee has determined that at-large candidates must play a minimum of four games this season to be considered for selection.
As for the other traits the committee will look for to fill the bracket, Moats noted quality wins as a factor, particularly in non-conference and FBS play.
"Even if you have an FBS win, somebody that might've played in the fall and won an FBS game, that certainly would help," Moats said. "We have some tools in our tool box."
NCAA Digital's Michella Chester contributed to this report.