If Division I football is played in the coming months, it won’t be on red turf.
Big Sky Conference presidents voted Thursday to not pursue a fall football season due to coronavirus concerns, postponing Eastern Washington’s 2020 campaign to the spring of 2021.
The league announced its plans for a spring season on Friday morning.
“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,” said Andy Feinstein, president of the University of Northern Colorado and chair of the Big Sky Conference Presidents’ Council in a news release.
“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.”
Idaho, tentatively scheduled to open its season at Temple on Sept. 12, indicated it may still pursue up to three nonconference games this fall and continue Big Sky play in the spring. That proposal was made to conference members this week, though many schools won’t pursue it due to local restrictions.
The Big Sky is made up of 13 football-playing schools from eight states, including Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, California, Colorado, Utah and Arizona, each with its own reopening and social distance mandates.
EWU, Sacramento State, UC Davis, Cal Poly and Portland State currently can’t conduct full practices due to local restrictions.
The Big Sky spring schedule will be made up of eight games, potentially starting as early as February. It’s not yet clear if each team will play its current league schedule in the spring.
The Football Championship Subdivision playoffs will also likely be pushed to the spring, as eight of the country’s 13 FCS leagues have opted out of fall football.
Reports also surfaced Friday that the Missouri Valley Football Conference – a league featuring North Dakota State, winners of eight of the past nine FCS national titles – would pursue a spring schedule.
EWU was set to begin practice Friday, but Spokane County’s Phase 2 social distancing mandates would have prevented the Eagles’ 120-plus players and staff from a typical gathering.
Eastern athletic director Lynn Hickey said that the Big Sky’s decision to pursue a spring season gives EWU coaches, athletes and administrators more time to prepare for a more standard season, despite its rare start.
If EWU pursued a fall season, Hickey said, it would have been a bigger financial hurdle in paying money to operate games with no fans, navigating coronavirus testing protocols and confronting several other logistical challenges.
Spring football is a good thing right now, Hickey said.
“It will be unique. A lot of logistical things need to be worked out still,” Hickey said. “But we can take a pause, get better prepared, see if the virus lessens over the next few months.
“A spring season gives us new life,” she added. “Tailgating in April, that could be fun. Practicing in January, maybe not so much fun for the players.”
EWU head coach Aaron Best chose to not comment on the upcoming season’s postponement, but some players weighed in on social media.
“First fall since 3rd grade without putting pads on,” EWU offensive lineman Conner Crist posted on Twitter. “But when spring rolls around you know the boys and I about to be ready.”
Idaho coaches and players weren’t made available to the media on Friday.
Eastern Washington’s conference rival, Montana, hosted a press conference to discuss the move to spring. The Grizzlies won’t pursue fall nonconference games, the school said, and multiple players said they’d prefer playing next fall rather than spring.
Friday’s announcement comes on the heels of last week’s news that Eastern’s season-opening game at Florida would be canceled. That game was worth $750,000 to EWU.
The Eagles are ranked in several FCS preseason Top 25 polls and quarterback Eric Barriere was recently named the Big Sky Conference’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
EWU was ranked fourth in both preseason Big Sky coaches and media polls and Idaho was ranked eighth and ninth, respectively.
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