The dust has barely settled on FCS conferences postponing their conference schedules to spring but we have already seen the first step towards a spring season.
And it is a good thing that a conference is willing to get the ball rolling on a spring schedule.
The SWAC became the first FCS conference to reveal its conference schedule for spring 2021. The conference games will begin on February 27 and conclude on April 17.
The SWAC built in a bye week for March 13 and an open week for April 24. They plan to have the SWAC Championship on May 1. SWAC teams are also able to play one non-conference game during the spring, which is in line with the SWAC’s outline when they postponed fall sports in July.
Using the SWAC schedule and assuming fewer teams in the FCS Championship, the season would culminate at the end of May with the National Championship. For a 16-team bracket, the first round would be played on May 8, Quarterfinals on May 15, Semifinals on May 22, and the FCS Championship game on May 29 – Labor Day weekend.
There is, of course, concern about starting a spring season in February for teams situated in the Northern parts of the country. Imagine a game in Missoula or Bozeman on Saturday, February 20 in frigid 20-degree temperatures.
The possibility of a mid to late February start has other implications as well. First, a shortened 6-week camp to prepare for a spring campaign would require an early January start while a full 8-game camp would mean a mid-December start. Either scenario is sub-optimal for Northern schools.
A second implication is that if the FCS Playoffs end on May 29, that leaves 3 months before the start of a 2021 fall season and a mere 4 to 6 weeks before the start of fall camp. Proposals of 6 to 8 game conference schedules mean that players might play anywhere from 17 to 23 games in 9 months. Would athletes get adequate rest and recovery to play a full 11 to 15 game schedule?
Other questions remain: How will athletic facilities and personnel be shared? How will a spring schedule impact the NFL Draft prospects of FCS level players? Will fans be allowed at full capacity or capped at a certain percentage?
None of this is done to discredit what the SWAC has proposed. It is intended to show that planning for a spring season will be complicated and numerous issues have to be considered at both a conference and school level. However, it is a template that can be used to get serious discussions started so there is not a disorganized spring season at the FCS level.