NCAA: Playoffs up to FCS members

NCAA Football
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(Stats Perform) – The NCAA’s board of governors punted on the decision to conduct postseason events such as the FCS playoffs this fall, instead telling the schools and conferences on Wednesday to make the call.

The governing body set Aug. 21 as the deadline for individual sports across its three levels to determine whether it can safely have a regular season and postseason during the COVID-19 pandemic. It said the FCS – the 127-member lower half of D-I college football – will only have a playoff if at least 50 percent of eligible programs play this fall, and the 24-team event can be reduced in size.

The board of governors, the highest ruling committee at the NCAA, did not use its authority to determine whether there would be championship events in 22 sports. The FCS playoff decision falls to the 40-member Division I Council, which is comprised of mostly school athletic directors.

“First and foremost, we need to make sure we provide a safe environment for college athletes to compete for an opportunity to play in NCAA championships,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. “A decision based on the realities in each division will provide clarity for conferences and campuses as they determine how to safely begin the academic year and the return to sports.”

Michael V. Drake, the board chair and president of the University of California system, added, “Each division must examine whether it has the resources available to take the required precautions given the spread of COVID-19.”

Time is of the essence for fall sports. Division I football programs with an early season opener on Aug. 29 were allowed to begin preseason practices last weekend, while the rest can start this week.

Seven of the 13 FCS conferences – the Big Sky, Big South, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Pioneer, Southern and Southland – and a handful of independent programs, totaling about 75 of the 127 schools, have kept alive the possibility of a fall season. The conferences that previously ruled out competition until possibly the spring semester were the CAA, which is still allowing members to play as independents this fall, Ivy, MEAC, Northeast, Patriot and SWAC.

The NCAA doesn’t control the regular season, so schools can proceed with a schedule even without a postseason. However, a lack of championship events, which the NCAA canceled during the winter and spring seasons due to the pandemic, could have been received by schools and conferences as a suggestion not to have fall competition.

The board of governors also directed members to meet specific protocols, including COVID-19 testing, to better ensure the safety of student-athletes, even announcing it will establish a phone number and email to allow athletes, parents or others to report alleged failures.

Student-athletes can opt out of participation due to concerns about contracting coronavirus without the risk of losing the academic year’s scholarship commitment.

Whether there will be the necessary number of schools for FCS playoffs will be determined this month. It appears there are 111 teams eligible for the playoffs after taking out Ivy League schools, who don’t compete in them, schools that are transitioning to full D-I status and those serving NCAA APR sanctions. About 70 are among the 75 that haven’t ruled out a fall season.

The NCAA left open the possibility of hosting any postseason that isn’t contested this fall at a later time – namely the spring semester – if health conditions are deemed safe.

Regardless of a playoff, the conference decisions to play or not come from their school presidents and CEO groups. The next scheduled meetings for the seven conference hoping to play are the Ohio Valley, Pioneer and Southland on Wednesday; Big Sky, Missouri Valley and Southern on Thursday; and Big South on Friday.

In contrast to the FCS, the NCAA doesn’t control the FBS postseason, and most programs are moving forward toward a fall season. Earlier Wednesday, UConn became the first of the 130 FBS programs to cancel its season.

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