Not long after the University of Idaho football team announced it has pushed its first day of preseason camp back a week, multiple credible reports surfaced Thursday suggesting the Big Sky Conference is canceling its fall football conference season, and possibly moving it to the spring, because of concerns with the coronavirus pandemic.
Per a number of other reports, the league will announce its official decision today, so plans for other sports and potential postponements of championships are not yet certain.
As of now, the Vandals are set to open fall camp Aug. 14 in Moscow, a school spokesman said.
Brian McLaughlin of HERO Sports, a national Football Championship Subdivision publication, first broke the news on Twitter early in the afternoon, reporting that two-thirds of Big Sky schools voted “no” to playing this fall.
He later clarified the league’s athletic directors recommended to conference presidents an eight-game spring schedule, and left nonconference scheduling up to each school — programs can elect to play non-Big Sky games in either the fall or spring.
Montana-based Skyline Sports corroborated McLaughlin’s report, adding that there is “a strong sense” the league will move its official conference season to the spring, although it reported the school presidents haven’t yet made an official decision on the athletic directors’ recommendation.
Skyline tweeted the athletic directors will lay out a plan for the season once the presidents’ vote becomes official.
The State Hornet, Sacramento State’s student newspaper, quoted school president Robert Nelsen in a story, confirming the Big Sky has postponed its fall 2020 season, and is delaying competition to the spring. He said only football seasons have been affected at this point.
Portland broadcast reporter Nick Krupke tweeted that Portland State coach Bruce Barnum said the conference is intending to play an eight-game schedule in the spring, with the Idaho and Montana schools potentially getting games in during the fall.
Other journalists — including the Oregonian/Oregonian Live’s John Canzano, former Missoulian reporter Amie Just and Brett McMurphy of Stadium — also posted to Twitter, indicating they’d been told the Big Sky has canceled its fall season.
On Wednesday, the NCAA Board of Governors passed down decision-making duties on fall sports seasons to respective divisions, conferences and institutions — divisions decide whether a postseason will be played, while conferences and individual programs will determine the fate of the regular seasons.
The board said at least 50 percent of FCS teams must play a season in order for there to be a postseason. According to STATS FCS, six conferences already have canned their fall seasons, and the Pioneer Football League reportedly joined them Thursday. If the Big Sky votes to call off the fall season, it’ll almost certainly spell the end for any possibility of a fall FCS postseason.
The governing body also set a lengthy list of requirements for NCAA schools to meet in order to conduct fall seasons, most of those regarding health and safety protocols, and testing capacities. UI is moving forward with in-person instruction this fall, and plans to employ an in-house system — a collaborative effort with Gritman Medical Center — to test every student, and for results to hopefully be made available in 24 hours.
Assuming the system at Idaho proves successful, the football program will meet the NCAA’s outlined testing protocols, which state that test results must be obtained within 72 hours of competition in high-risk contact sports, like football.
On Monday, UI joined several other Big Sky schools to report COVID-19 cases among student-athletes. An Idaho spokesperson said nine have tested positive since early July, and self-isolated to prevent potential spread of the disease, while another 15 had been in contact with positive-testing individuals, and self-quarantined.
The Vandals already have had two nonconference football games scrapped because of coronavirus-related cancellations — their planned season opener Sept. 5 at home against Western Oregon, and the Battle of the Palouse at Washington State on Sept. 19. The latter has resulted in a loss of $550,000 in guaranteed revenue, according to the game contract obtained through a records request.
Colton Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.