The entirety of NCAA FCS will not compete in conference sports this fall, as the Ohio Valley Conference board of presidents made its decision official via a Friday vote, sources told ESPN. However, the OVC did leave the door open for its teams to play as many as four nonconference football games this fall, with an eye on playing a seven-game conference football schedule in spring 2021.
The OVC was the last of the 13 FCS conferences to postpone fall athletics to spring and, like those other conferences, left the door open to play nonconference games this fall. But the league is the first to reveal a specific number of fall and spring games.
The Southland and Southern Conferences announced their fall conference sports postponements Thursday.
The Division I Football Championship Subdivision level, formerly known as I-AA, had already seen its playoffs shelved by the NCAA once the number of conference fall postponements surpassed 50% earlier in the week. But the remaining individual conferences were still exploring the possibility of saving their regular seasons. As of Friday, many FCS football programs were still grappling with decisions concerning their nonconference schedule and the possibility of salvaging a few nonconference games.
The majority of the FCS conference announcements dealt only with in-conference play, leaving out-of-conference decisions to individual institutions. For example, the nine Southern Conference football schedules as they stood entering this week included a combined 14 nonconference games, including two against FBS opponents.
"Today's decision by the SoCon was not one that was taken lightly," Mercer University athletic director Jim Cole said in a statement on Thursday. "Although disappointed by the move to the spring, I look forward to meeting with our student-athletes as soon as possible and charting a new path forward. The actions by the conference leave flexibility for a partial schedule this coming semester. I look forward to pursuing all options related to games in the fall."
Mercer, like many FCS programs, has been aggressive when it comes to scheduling games with Power 5 opponents. In 2017, the Bears played both Alabama and Auburn for a combined payday of $1,050,000. The budget for Mercer's entire athletic department has been reported as being in the range of $9 million. Mercer was originally scheduled to start the 2020 season at Vanderbilt but lost that game when the SEC cut its fall schedule to conference only.
Even amid FCS conference season postponement announcements, some schools were still confirming fall 2020 game dates. Among them, Austin Peay of the OVC moved its Week 1 game at Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference (and a $390,000 payout) to Sept. 19, Houston Baptist of the Southland Conference said it still planned to play Louisiana Tech of Conference USA on Sept. 15, and Campbell University of the Big South Conference announced the addition of a trip to Appalachian State of the Sun Belt on Sept. 26. There are also multiple nonconference FCS matchups that are likely to still be played, such as the Sept. 3 between Eastern Kentucky of the OVC and Western Carolina of the SoCon.
The primary concern seems to be weighing the financial burden against the benefits of playing what might be no more than a few football games, especially when it comes to the price tag of NCAA-mandated COVID-19 testing.
"We can't afford the costs of those tests, and if the big programs are being honest with you, a lot of them can't afford it, either," Chattanooga Mocs head coach Rusty Wright said one week ago on ESPN Radio's Marty & McGee, adding, "But that cost doesn't mean we don't want to play."