Big Sky moves football season to the spring, wants FCS conferences to follow

The Big Sky Conference will play its football schedule in the spring due to conditions from the coronavirus pandemic, it announced Friday.

The move will result in the cancellation of the 2020 FCS playoffs, but the Big Sky hopes other conferences follow its lead and that the NCAA will shift the FCS title game to the spring.

"This is the right decision for our member institutions, even though we realize how disappointing it will be for all who represent and care about Big Sky football," Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said. "... We already have begun actively engaging our fellow FCS conferences and the NCAA to join us then for what will be a unique opportunity to return to competition and compete for an FCS championship."

With the addition of the Pioneer League on Friday, seven other FCS football conferences have already canceled their fall seasons.

Without the 13 teams from the Big Sky and nine from the Pioneer League, FCS would no longer have the number of participating teams necessary to conduct a championship event for the fall. On Wednesday, the NCAA announced "if 50% or more of eligible teams in a particular sport in a division cancel their fall season, there will be no fall NCAA championship in that sport in that division."

The Big Sky said the option for nonconference games in the spring still is under review.

"The health and safety of our students is our top priority, and ultimately that concern guided our decision-making process over the past few months as we explored every option regarding the 2020 football season," said Andy Feinstein, president of the University of Northern Colorado and chair of the Big Sky Presidents' Council. "We recognize just how meaningful these opportunities are to the student-athletes, coaches, and staff throughout our conference, and empathize that they won't be able to compete this fall for a Big Sky championship. We are eager to provide our football programs with that opportunity in the spring when it's hopefully safer to be able to do so."

The Pioneer League is a non-scholarship league with one of the largest geographic footprints in college football, stretching from California to North Carolina to New York.

"The Presidents and Athletic Directors of our respective universities made this very difficult decision after extensive deliberations and consideration of many factors," Pioneer League chair and Butler president James M. Danko said in a statement. "We recognize that our student-athletes will be disappointed, but our highest priority is the health and safety of all those involved in our athletic programs. Ultimately, the risks of proceeding are simply too high especially to ensure the safety of our students."

In addition to the Pioneer League, the Ivy League, CAA, MEAC, Northeast,and Patriot League have all canceled their fall seasons, while the Southwestern Athletic Conference is planning for a seven-game spring football season. The NCAA announced Wednesday championships would be canceled for both Division II and III sports in the fall.

James Madison, which competes in the CAA and has advanced to the FCS national title game three times over the past four years with one championship, said Friday it would not play this fall after earlier saying it would explore putting together its own schedule after the CAA opted not to play.