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Practices are silver lining in cloudy FCS forecast

By CRAIG HALEY

Stats Perform FCS Senior Editor

(Stats Perform) - The recent start of preseason practices across FCS campuses helps to keep hope alive for a season this fall, but the players and coaches involved appear to be like everybody else, wondering if their preparation will come to an end soon.

Seven of the 13 FCS conferences and about 75 of the 127 schools, including those playing as independents, have not canceled on a fall season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will begin practices on Friday if they haven't done so already.

The teams are practicing for the start of the regular season. The NCAA Board of Governors on Wednesday gave the 40-member NCAA Division I Council until Aug. 21 to determine whether a regular season will lead to the annual playoffs, and that answer should be known sooner rather than later because the conferences are feverishly deciding their respective situation.

Unlike the FBS level, where nobody wanted to be the first of 130 schools or 10 conferences to cancel its fall season - UConn became the first to do so on Wednesday - the FCS level in Division I and divisions below it have been more willing to pull out and shift the goal to playing in the spring semester if health condition are deemed safe.

In each FCS conference, a board of directors makes the call on fall competition, and six conferences, starting with the Ivy League on July 8, have decided against it. Among the seven making an 11th-hour decision, the Ohio Valley, Pioneer and Southland conferences reconvened meetings on Wednesday; the Big Sky, Missouri Valley and Southern conferences were meeting Thursday; and the Big South has a meeting scheduled for Friday.

The Southland was the first to issue a statement about evolving discussions, saying Wednesday night, "The discussion was framed by safeguarding the safety and health of student-athletes and other game participants within the larger university communities. The Southland membership is eager to return their athletic teams to the fields and courts in the coming weeks and months. Our campus presidential leaders, in consultation with their athletic directors, agreed to continue these vital conversations in the future within the parameters set forth in the NCAA Resocialization of Collegiate Sport document and the recently received guidance from the NCAA Board of Governors."

Athletic programs that are proceeding to a fall season have to meet numerous safety protocols, including COVID-19 testing. Those with an early season opener scheduled for Aug. 29 - such as OVC member Austin Peay, Central Arkansas in the Southland and Missouri State and Southern Illinois from the MVFC - were allowed to practice as of last weekend and those with a traditional opener (leading into Labor Day weekend) are picking up the ball this week, including OVC member Jacksonville State on Wednesday.

"We've made it to fall camp," JSU coach John Grass said, "and I think everyone was holding their breath as we wondered if we were even going to have this opportunity. So we're thankful and blessed to be out here doing what we love to do. It's fun to have all of these guys back out here and forget what all is going on in 2020. We're out here focusing on ball, and that has been enjoyable."

Updated August 6, 2020

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