March Madness has taken on a different meaning for the schools that play football at the Division I FCS level.
The spring season that began in February after the regularly scheduled fall 2020 season was postponed by COVID-19 sputters towards the finish line as coronavirus cases within programs have led to what feels like an avalanche of cancellations as the regular season reaches its finale. weeks.
To the surprise of no one, the South Dakota State-USD rivalry match scheduled for Saturday in Brookings was canceled Monday, as the Coyotes are still dealing with COVID-19 issues that prompted the cancellation of their match against Northern Iowa. The USD season is likely to be over now as last week’s opponent Western Illinois announced they were opting out on Monday night. Unless the Coyotes find a new opponent before April 17, their season will end 1-3. Earlier in the day, Wofford, a perennial FCS contender, also opted for the remainder of the season.
SDSU, USD and North Dakota have now canceled three consecutive games. When SDSU and the North Dakota schools play their season finale, they’ll be a month between games. About 20 percent of the games scheduled for this spring have been canceled or postponed, and more troublingly, that number is on the rise. It’s getting worse, not better.
But the Missouri Valley Football Conference shows no signs of closing the store so far.
“The MVFC has already reached the NCAA thresholds for designating an AQ, and we are motivated to play as many games as possible to give our teams the best chance at a large squad,” Chief Mike Kern said in a statement. “Despite the developments over the past two weekends, our conference has scheduled more league games and played more games this spring than any other FCS league.”
That’s the ray of hope that teams still hoping to play for a championship hold on to, although that statement came out last week. The pressure could build to call this thing off if the cancellations go through.
The hope we have is in the playoffs, and it looks pretty good. It looks like that is moving forward, said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier. (Canceled the USD game) takes you to the week of improvement mode. It’s unique, but the real tricky part is when you put in a whole week of preparation and the game gets canceled.
At least Which will not be the case. And NDSU, after two weeks of dealing with COVID-19 cases that resulted in the Bison having to reschedule one match and cancel another, reported no cases on Monday, an indication that the following weeks re-scheduled Dakota Marker match between the Jacks and Bison can continue.
The season is crumbling, but so far calls to cancel it have come almost exclusively from some in the media. The players and coaches want to play even when fans lose interest (which seemed low at first). The NCAA seems hardly aware that an FCS season is underway.
While it’s tempting to wonder if it’s worth it at this point, it’s also hard to blame teams in the playoff hunt for wanting to continue. Especially for the three Dakota schools, a national championship seems very much in play.
NDSU, SDSU and UND all have one loss. UND defeated SDSU. NDSU defeated UND. The Jacks and Bison will be playing in two weeks. And while the general consensus is that these are easily three of the country’s top five teams, the loser of Fargo’s Dakota Marker game could be left out of the playoffs.
The NCAA released its FCS playoff rankings last week (unannounced, during a college baseball game at ESPNU, if that gives you any indication of how important this is to the national governing body), with NDSU, SDSU and UND coming second, third and fifth, respectively. But the NCAA also confirmed that the MEAC, which has only three teams this spring, will still receive an automatic bid, so there will only be five at-large bids in the 16-team field. Would the Valley get two out of five?
How about a playoff bracket that didn’t include a Jackrabbit team that had road wins from UNI and Southern Illinois and lost only to the two North Dakota schools? Or a bracket that didn’t include the Bison winners from eight of the last nine national championships?
And what about the playoffs themselves? They start on April 24, with the national championship game scheduled for May 15. But again, the number of cancellations due to the coronavirus is on the rise. What if one or more teams selected for the 16-team field get COVID-19 cases? Will another team that previously thought the season was over be willing and / or able to participate in the tournament?
What if there is forfeiture? What if a team comes up with positive things in the week of the national championship game? Cutting back the matches seems basically impossible for several logistical reasons, not the least of which are the teams coming this far already playing deep into what should be the off season, with the 2021 campaign kicking off on time in the fall.
Obviously, this is not a typical season. We knew that, of course, but it seemed that things were expected to start shaky, but hopefully stabilize as the weather improved and nationwide cases of the virus fell. That’s not how it played out, and that makes it harder to maintain enthusiasm for what’s going on. There was not the usual excitement and anticipation for Dakota Marker game week, and the USD / SDSU game’s cancellation seemed inevitable. Fans are not stupid. They’re not going to waste their time setting fire to a game they didn’t expect would happen. It’s hard for them to stay engaged for a month between games.
But Stiegelmeier is right, it seems that the chances of the play-offs still taking place are pretty good for the time being. His own team hasn’t had a single positive case in nearly three months. They defeated a top-10 team 44-3 on the road in their last game. The Jacks are starving for their first trip to Frisco to play for a national championship. And while there’s no doubt that whoever wins this spring championship, if it does, will put an asterisk on it in the minds of many, it wouldn’t mean any less for SDSU. Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers, champions of the disjointed 60-game baseball season in the 2020 Major League.
That still leaves the teams playing with no other option but to keep going until they hear it’s over.
The only thing we can control is to make sure that no matter how many matches we play in this process, we get better as a soccer team, Stiegelmeier said. That’s the goal, so keep working and see it as an opportunity to maybe play for the prize later.
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