With the NCAA Division I Council’s fall meetings held this past week, several key decisions were made regarding the future of the 2020-21 season amid the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday night, in addition to the council announcing a Nov. 25 start date for the men’s and women’s basketball seasons, the Council officially approved moving the fall sports championships to the spring, extending the recruiting dead period until Jan. 1 and making changes to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Championship.
For the fall sports championships, the Division I Council approved a proposal to move the men’s and women’s cross country and soccer championships, women’s field hockey and volleyball and men’s water polo championships to the spring 2021 semester. Most conferences, including the America East (AE), have already postponed their regular seasons to the spring. For BU, the decision means that five of its teams will have a chance to compete for a NCAA tournament bid in the spring. The proposal will go onto the Division I Board of Directors for final approval.
“While no one wanted to see fall championships impacted by the pandemic, the Competition Oversight Committee put a thoughtful proposal in front of the Council which was resoundingly endorsed,” said University of Pennsylvania athletics director M. Grace Calhoun, the Division I Council chair. “We believe we have an appropriate and considerate plan to move fall championship events to the spring, and I look forward to presenting this plan to the Board of Directors next week. The plan gives maximum opportunities to fall student-athletes to participate in NCAA championships, while preserving access to conferences through automatic qualifications.”
The details of the proposal are as follows: team sport championship brackets will be filled to 75 percent of normal capacity, all games in the fall term will count toward the fall sport championships that will be conducted in the spring, all sites for each championship will be predetermined and the number of preliminary-round sites will be reduced due to safety concerns. Conference champions will still automatically qualify for the tournament, as at-large bids will cut as part of the 25 percent reduction.
In basketball, the Division I Council’s Nov. 25 start date for basketball was changed from the original start date of Nov. 10. This decision was made for the student-athletes’ safety, since most schools will have concluded the fall term and moved to remote learning by the Thanksgiving break. However, not all teams will be begin play on Nov. 25, as conferences and schools may choose their own start dates for the seasons based on regional guidelines and other factors.
The Division I Council also approved civic engagement legislation, which states that Division I student-athletes will not practice, compete or participate in any athletic activities on the first Tuesday after Nov. 1 every year from this year on, including this Election Day. The Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee proposed this legislation to enable student-athletes to have the opportunity to vote every year.
“The Council unanimously supports this important piece of legislation,” Calhoun said. “Coming from Division I SAAC, we know it represents the voice of student-athletes across the country who continue to express a desire to increase their civic engagement at local, state and federal levels. We look forward to seeing student-athletes use this opportunity as a way to create positive change.”
While Binghamton does not sponsor football, other AE members play as part of the FCS. For Stony Brook, Albany, Maine and New Hampshire, which are planning on playing football in the spring, the FCS Championship will be played from April 18 through May 15 with 16 teams competing instead of the typical 24 teams. Both fall and spring competition will be taken into consideration when determining the teams participating in the championship. The season model for the 2020-21 season provides lots of flexibility for practice time and allows up to eight regular season games to occur during a 13-week span. The framework still needs to be approved at the Division I Board of Directors meeting next week.