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.
The spring season kicked off Saturday, Feb. 13 with a thrilling double overtime finish between McNeese and Tarleton State. Conference play in the spring portion of this year's FCS regular season begins Friday, Feb. 19.
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, 10 teams will automatically qualify via conference championships. The remaining six 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.
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In November, NCAA.com's Michella Chester 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 played at least one game in the fall of 2020. But the majority of conferences and schools elected to push their games to the spring with modified schedules. Here's the latest spring season info from each conference:
- Big Sky: Eight teams will play six conference games each, including three home games and three away games, starting Feb. 27. March 20 and April 17 will be open dates for potential rescheduled games.
- Big South: Five teams will play four conference games each, and up to four non-conference games, starting March 13. Two teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- CAA: 11 teams will play six conference games each, and up to two non-conference games, starting March 6.
- Ivy League: The league has elected not to play a spring season.
- MEAC: The conference suspended its spring season.
- MVFC: 11 teams will play eight conference games each, starting Feb. 19. Three teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- NEC: The league plans to play a four-game conference schedule, starting March 7. The conference championship will be played either April 16 or 17.
- OVC: Teams will play seven conference games each, starting Feb. 21. Four teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- Patriot League: Teams will play four conference games, starting March 13.
- Pioneer League: Seven teams will play six conference games and are allowed to schedule non-conference matchups prior to the March 13-April 17 window. Presbyterian joins the conference as part of the scheduling agreement.
- SoCon: Teams will play eight conference games each, starting Feb. 20. Three teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- Southland: Teams will play six conference games each, starting Feb. 20. Four teams have also played at least one game this fall.
- SWAC: Teams will play six conference games each, starting Feb. 26. The schedule also includes one non-conference open date for each team. Divisional leaders will play for the conference championship on May 1.
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 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?
Ten conference champions will earn automatic berths into this year's playoff field via conference championship.
Here are the 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 six 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.