(Stats Perform) – Jackson Hankey grasped for ideas as he envisioned Saturdays this fall with FCS national champion North Dakota State sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, like most college football programs.
The junior linebacker mentioned he could visit home to work on the family farm.
Fishing, he all but muttered.
Who knows what, as the ideas trailed off.
“It’s been kind of a long process to a realization that we weren’t going to play this play,” Hankey said earlier this week. “I’d say even after the virus kind of broke in March through the summer, I think a lot of guys were still optimistic it wasn’t going to stop our football season. Once the dominoes started to fall and things started to get canceled, it flipped around pretty quick.”
At North Dakota State, they’re shaking their heads like everybody else over a changed way of life. Late August usually means the final steps of the preseason before a run at another potential national title, but now the Bison must hope health conditions improve enough to allow for a season in the spring semester.
North Dakota State, a winner of eight of the last nine FCS titles, began its football program in 1894. The last time it missed a season was in 1944 during World War II.
“It’s probably been since 1979, 1980, since I haven’t had a fall with football,” said second-year coach Matt Entz, whose program is on an FCS-record 37-game winning streak. “I’m going to have to try to find some other things to do. My wife told me I’m don’t have any hobbies. Football is my hobby.”
The dark cloud of uncertainty brings a financial toll in addition to the emotional scars. North Dakota State has played nine or 10 home games each year since 2011 and football funds a large portion of the athletic program.
About 15 of the 127 FCS programs plan to play nonconference games this fall while the majority that sit out will await the NCAA’s direction regarding the continued offseason. Many are back in their summer access through Sept. 15, not in pads, but holding socially distanced meetings and walking through offensive and defensive schemes that they look forward to using in the future.
If there’s a spring season, preseason practices would restart in January and games would kick off in late February or early March. The expectation across the FCS is the regular season would lead to a playoff in May.
“For us, not to be able to realize the potential that this team had, it really hurts,” Hankey said.
“If the spring’s an option, at least we get to play some football games. I’d rather have that then nothing.”