Football is Back? An Unusual Spring Season Begins to Take Shape
For the past few months, Paladins fans have been relatively in the dark regarding when, where and how (or even if) college football would kick back off this spring. Barring any COVID-19 complications, the College Football Playoff is maintaining its original schedule, as the NCAA has no direct authority over it. However, the NCAA does have control over the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), of which Furman is a member.
The NCAA announced on Sept. 22 that the fall national tournaments under NCAA control, which includes the FCS tournament, will take place in the spring of 2021. Despite some schools, such as Furman, electing not to hold contests this fall, they still can participate in the spring tournaments. In short, football will be back for Furman fans.
Per the NCAA, FCS football will have an 11-game limit plus the opportunity for a conference final. These contests must be completed over a 13-week span. All regular season contests must be completed before April 17, 2021. As with all other postponed tournaments, the tournament field has been reduced to 75% of their normal size, although the NCAA Football Oversight Committee decided to further increase reduction for football by 8%. Thus, as opposed to the traditional 24-team bracket, the 2021 NCAA FCS Tournament will have only 16 teams, with 11 teams automatically qualifying by virtue of winning their conference, and 5 teams selected as at-larges. The number of automatic qualifiers increased by a bid from previous years, as the MEAC decided to utilize their bid for the first time since 2015 due to the cancellation of the Celebration Bowl (the unofficial FCS HBCU championship contested between the SWAC’s, which lacks an automatic bid, and the MEAC’s respective champions).
When asked about these developments, Associate Athletic Director of Athletic Communications Hunter Reid indicated that, “After a fall without Furman football for the first time since 1945, we are certainly happy to see the NCAA establish a timetable for us to play in early 2021. We anxiously await a schedule announcement from the Southern Conference and the opportunity to begin practice in preparation for the season. Of course, our top priority will continue to be the health and well-being of our student-athletes through this process.”
While these developments do give some clarity to Paladins fans, many factors for the 2021 season remain largely up in the air. For instance, it is unclear if contests will be played with fans present. Many of the FBS contests that have occurred this fall have been played with mostly empty stadiums. Losing the opportunity to have fans at games (and collect gate revenues) would be extremely damaging to FCS programs who don’t have the luxury of sizable TV deals to fall back on. Fiscally, Furman has suffered losses due to the pandemic resulting in the decision to cut two varsity teams. So, as with almost everything COVID-related, we can do little else but wait and see.
Along with the NCAA announcement, Furman Football recently announced their return to the field. The Paladins have begun a strict practice schedule according to University public health guidelines. Furman Athletics announced: “the Paladins are permitted 15 practices over 34 days, composed of 12 sessions in full pads and three helmet-only workouts.” Coach Hendrix elaborated by stating, "We are beyond excited to finally be able to get back on the practice field." Despite all the uncertainty and COVID-19 related obstacles, things appear optimistic. Furman Football has returned to the field to prepare for the Spring of 2021, and the FCS announced a plan to get football back.