FARMINGTON, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – The Big Sky Conference has moved the football season to the spring of 2021 due to safety concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement was made Friday morning, after being voted on by the university presidents on Thursday.
The move will likely result in the cancellation of the 2020 FCS playoffs, but the Big Sky hopes other conferences follow its lead and that the NCAA will shift the FCS title game to the spring.
The Big Sky Conference consists of 13 teams in the Football Championship Subdivision, including Weber State and Southern Utah, and is considered the best conference in FCS.
“The health and safety of our students is our top priority, and ultimately that concern guided our decision-making process over the past few months as we explored every option regarding the 2020 football season,” said Andy Feinstein, President of the University of Northern Colorado and chair of the Big Sky Presidents’ Council. “We recognize just how meaningful these opportunities are to the student-athletes, coaches, and staff throughout our conference, and empathize that they won’t be able to compete this fall for a Big Sky championship. We are eager to provide our football programs with that opportunity in the spring when it’s hopefully safer to be able to do so.”
Non-conference play for the conference’s football programs is still pending further review. The Big Sky has begun exploring modified versions of a conference football schedule to be played in the spring and fully supports the NCAA shifting the FCS championship to the spring.
Weber State has won three straight Big Sky Conference championships, and is the favorite to win its fourth in a row. The Wildcats are coming off an 11-4 season in which it made it to the FCS semifinals for the first time in school history.
“Obviously very disappointed,” said head coach Jay Hill. “We thought, and we still feel that this team has a chance to be really, really special, so to have it come to an end disappointing. I think there’s some light at the end of the tunnel where we get to play with these guys come spring time. Our administrators did a phenomenal job of fighting this all the way to the bitter end, but the reality of what’s going on geographically in different regions of our league it just became impossible to play.”
“Our student-athletes always have been and will continue to be our top priority,” said Weber State athletic director Tim Crompton. “We are disappointed that we are not able to move forward and provide the opportunity to compete this fall, however, we understand and are acutely aware of the current circumstances. In addition, we are very fortunate to have outstanding leadership from our president and his administration. Weber State University has the best interests in mind of our entire campus community.
“We anticipate and look forward to a championship football season in the spring and as we prepare, our goal is to provide an environment that our student-athletes can continue to thrive in, both academically and athletically.”
Southern Utah finished the 2019 season with a record of 3-9.
Seven other FCS leagues have cancelled its fall football seasons. Without the 13 teams from the Big Sky and nine from the Pioneer League, FCS would no longer have the number of participating teams necessary to conduct a championship event for the fall. But the hope is the NCAA will allow the FCS playoffs to take place in the spring of 2021.
“This is the right decision for our member institutions, even though we realize how disappointing it will be for all who represent and care about Big Sky football,” Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said. “We will now shift our attention to doing everything within our power to provide our football student-athletes and coaches with a conference schedule and a championship opportunity in the spring. We already have begun actively engaging our fellow FCS conferences and the NCAA to join us then for what will be a unique opportunity to return to competition and compete for an FCS championship.”
The Mountain West Conference decided to play a 10-game season, with eight conference games. The Pac-12 Conference will play a 10-game conference-only season beginning September 26th.