CARBONDALE — As part of an agreement with the Missouri Valley Football Conference, SIU will play three non-conference games this fall and league play in the spring in the hopes of having an FCS playoff berth to chase.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference Presidents Council voted on Friday to postpone conference competition until the spring. The 11-member league will play a full eight-game spring league schedule with the expectation to culminate the season with the playoffs, if there are playoffs. This fall's FCS playoffs fell off the cliff Friday morning, when the Big Sky Conference and the Pioneer League announced they would not compete in league play this fall. They joined six other FCS conferences to call off either the entire fall football schedule or league play, taking the amount of teams required to have an NCAA playoff to less than 50%.
The NCAA Board of Governors, the association's highest-ruling body, punted on holding or not holding fall championships in 2020 earlier this week, but instituted guidelines in order for the championships to take place. One of those guidelines was to have at least 50% of the eligible teams compete during the fall in order to have a playoff.
"This decision to move to the spring comes with the expectation that our student-athletes will have an opportunity to play in the FCS playoffs," SIU athletic director Liz Jarnigan said in a news release Friday. "The feedback we received from our student-athletes was that they want to compete for a national title. That was the rationale for our conference's decision."
MVFC schools are still permitted to play up to three non-conference games this fall, and Jarnigan said she is actively exploring options. The Salukis have a non-conference game at Kansas scheduled for Aug. 29, though that date is likely to change, she said. That game carries a $300,000 guarantee for the Salukis.
SIU and UT Martin have agreed to move their Sept. 3 game to an open date in the 2025 season, according to Jarnigan. The Salukis also have a home game against Southeast Missouri State scheduled on Sept. 19.
SEMO halted its fall practices Friday, citing the uncertainty of the season and the safety of its athletes. SIU coach Nick Hill said his team was also halting practice, at least for a few days, to process its new potential schedule.
"We're going to take some time to digest how the league decision will affect our student-athletes and make sure we listen to their concerns," Hill said. "Our players' health and welfare remains our top priority."
To date, SIU players have been tested three times for COVID-19 with no positive tests.
This fall is one of the most highly-anticipated seasons for SIU's squad in years. The Salukis, who were in the playoff hunt last year at 7-5 but were left out of the field, were ranked 19th in the Athlon Sports preseason poll and 22nd in the HERO Sports preseason poll. Quarterback Karé Lyles returns for his senior year, along with six other returning starters on offense. SIU returns six starters on defense, as well as kickers Nico Gualdoni and Griffin Cerra and punter Jack Colquhoun.
The Big Sky and Pioneer League also expressed the possibility of competing in the spring.
"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," Big Sky Commissioner Tom Wistrcill said in a news release. “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 Big Sky said non-conference play for the league's programs was still pending further review.
Kansas will play nine Big 12 Conference games and one non-conference opponent at home this year, as of today, after the Big 12 announced its conference format for the fall on Aug. 3. The Jayhawks have not announced which of its three non-conference opponents that will be. KU is scheduled to open against SIU before opening conference play at Baylor a few days later. The Jayhawks are also scheduled to play Boston College at home, which is unlikely, and fly to Coastal Carolina in another non-conference game. Boston College, as part of the ACC, is supposed to only play one non-conference game against an opponent in its home state.
James Madison, Elon and Villanova from the CAA have said they still might try to play this fall, and Charleston Southern, Chattanooga and Central Arkansas might try to play even if their leagues call it off, according to HERO Sports.
On Twitter: @THefferman
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