FCS independents would be caught between conference-only schedules

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – Most FCS conferences are likely considering a conference-only schedule as they try to have a 2020 season during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Moving to a conference-only schedule would cut down on early games and travel, and two Power-Five Conferences – the Big Ten and Pac-12 – have made that switch already. Such evolving decisions could trickle down to the FCS level, where the Ivy and Patriot leagues were the first two Division I conferences to elect not to have fall sports competition.

Five of the 127 FCS schools are competing as independents this season and could get stuck in the middle of decisions made by conferences, losing the bulk of their schedules if opponents opt out of nonconference games.

Merrimack, a second-year FCS program, is in the best position as a member of the Northeast Conference. The Warriors are playing only five of the seven NEC members and haven’t joined the standings yet, but the membership would keep the “nonconference” games to assist all involved. It’s even possible Merrimack could add matchups against Bryant and Duquesne to fill gaps in the schedules, although the games wouldn’t count in the NEC standings.

Robert Morris left the NEC on July 1 to join the Horizon League, but there’s no football there, so the Colonials are playing an independent season before joining the Big South as an associate member in 2021. They’re scheduled to play all NEC teams this season, but none of the other schools would be obligated to keep the games if the NEC went to a conference-only schedule. RMU has already made a preemptive move by adding a Sept. 26 game at Hawaii.

Presbyterian is another school in transition, spending this season as an independent before it joins the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League next year. The Blue Hose have a Nov. 14 matchup with Merrimack – one of six different FCS conferences represented on their schedule. One of their four sub-Division I games (Johnson C. Smith) has been canceled.

Two programs are making the jump from Division II to the FCS this season, Dixie State and Tarleton. They’re scheduled to finish their maiden voyage against each other on Nov. 28, but options would become limited if other opponents move to conference-only schedules. Four of Dixie State’s opponents are from the Big Sky, including in the Trailblazers’ first FCS game – an instate trip to Southern Utah on Sept. 5. Tarleton also is scheduled to stay instate in Texas for its first FCS game – Sept. 5 at Sam Houston State.

A round-robin schedule of games between the independents appears unlikely due to travel and costs. The closest campuses – Presbyterian (Clinton, South Carolina) and Robert Morris (Moon Township, Pennsylvania) – are over 550 miles apart. Many distances between campuses are over 1,000 miles.

That may mean the FCS independents would seek available opponents from any level.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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