CSJ Roundtable, Week of 4/3/21: Limping, Or Soaring, To The End of the Regular Season?

COLLEGE SPORTS JOURNAL: One of the more shocking developments this week was North Dakota State cancelling their game against South Dakota mere hours before the game was to be played. Did the Missouri Valley make a mistake as to how they are contesting the spring season?

CHUCK BURTON: I think so. By scheduling a full boat of games and only one makeup week, it’s made it a logistical nightmare to get in all the games and has also made a negative incentive for schools like Illinois State to just throw up their hands and opt of of the spring season halfway through.

Also, I am really scratching my head as to how North Dakota State was allowed to travel to South Dakota while they didn’t know the COVID status of all of their athletes. Was it a breakdown of league policy? A mistake by North Dakota State? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered as to how this happened.

KENT SCHMIDT: The MVFC changed their schedule to have one bye at the end of the year to make-up any lost games due to COVID-19 or weather reasons. I think they might have been better to follow possibly the Big Sky and have another bye week to make-up any games and possibly limit the conference slate to seven games rather than eight. Right now, North Dakota and North Dakota State will not be able to make-up all games due to their opponents already having games postponed earlier from this last week’s postponements.

But I think the MVFC made the right call to try to contest its higher number of games to really get a true champion in the league if a spring season was going to be played. Other leagues very well could have two teams tied at the top of the standings that never played so it will be tough to know the true champion of those leagues.

RAY MALONEY: It’s always easy to second guess decisions or to be a Monday Morning Quarterback, but the bottom line is that MFVC officials made a decision based on all available information at the time. I am sure coaches and athletics directors had a hand in that decision-making process before a final determination was made. I will applaud their attempts to make the spring season as close to normal as was possible.

ROB BUTLER: The Missouri Valley Conference really dropped the ball in my opinion. Think of all the fans and players’ parents/relatives that made the drive to South Dakota only to learn that the game was cancelled. I have empathy for them.

BEN SCHLIEGER: I think the MVFC should have made changes to its policy and not to the schedule. The Big Sky has been an outstanding representation of a well-thought-out schedule with breaks for rest or for COVID rescheduling, if necessary. The MVFC went for a full schedule, which is commendable, but there had to be a plan if teams were not able to compete.

JAMIE WILLIAMS: No, I dont think they are. Its unfortunate that it happened. The question is COVID testing. When does NDSU do their testing? It will be interesting to see if there are any more positives in the next couple days. If there are, the Dakota Marker game could be cancelled. But above all, the key is the health of the players and coaches, so don’t make it about anything else before considering that.

Since the NFL season, I still believe if a team tests positive for COVID there should be one chance to reschedule that week, and then it will go as a loss afterward. If both teams test positive and cannot reschedule then both get a loss. Aggressive? Sure, but players and staff might actually take the precautions they were supposed to in the first place.

Courtesy Chattanooga Times Free Press

CSJ: Almost as confounding as NDSU’s late cancellation was undefeated Chattanooga basically starting it’s second stringers against Mercer. Should the Mocs be punished?

CHUCK: I’m not sure they should be punished, but like North Dakota State I find the Mocs’ lack of transparency about their situation concerning. It’s not so much that COVID has affected some position groups and that they’ve had positive tests – many programs have had to deal with that. It’s two issues:

One, even before the season started there were rumors that they were going to opt out, but they went ahead anyway and played. If they had major concerns and some people were not on board, should they even have played a single game? Shouldn’t they have just decided on spring practices only?

Two, is there more to the story? In this case, thanks to reporting from The Chattanooga Times Free Press, there are concerning details around the suspension of the season. Their account said that they fielded 17 first-time starters last week, including five freshmen linemen – yet they still started QB Drayton Arnold, their starter, that got them to an undefeated league start. Starting five first-time linemen puts the entire offense at risk for serious injuries against any FCS team. If “health and safety of the players” was truly and honestly the top concern with the Mocs, the game would have never been played.

JAMIE: I don’t like it, but I cant and wont tell a program how to approach this Spring. I heard from the beginning that Chattanooga was going to do that. There should be no punishment. They can play who they want.

ROB: I feel for the seniors, but the rumor mill was churning that this was a possibility. By the same token I can understand wanting to preserve the players’ health for the fall… but gosh you must be disappointed if you’re a senior. They shouldn’t be punished though.

RAY: I am old school and will never make any apologies for that. Go ahead, blame it all on a pandemic as has been the prevailing crutch over the past year, but Chattanooga’s decision to start many of its second stringers is a sort of Pandora’s Box. On the one hand it is often said that a team can only become the best by playing the best. Chattanooga’s decision to start its second team also indicates a feeling of superiority over Mercer heading into last week’s game against the Bears.

BEN: Again, to reference the NFL, it depends on how you feel about the Doug Pederson bench move. Did it matter if they benched him? Not really. This season is a mulligan for everyone’s eligibility according to the NCAA so why not try different schemes, lineups, etc.? Is it disrespectful? Well, I guess if you want to be a Monday Morning armchair quarterback for the team you can do so, but unless you’re a part of the team it is hard to say the true intentions behind the move. No punishment from me.

KENT: I think all teams had to come into this spring season with the idea of planning also for a fall season so going deeper into the depth charts was going to be required to keep the team healthy enough to compete in the spring with the idea of also being healthy enough in the fall season as well. Chattanooga appears that they decided to do this all at once instead of spreading it around through all their games, but I think that is a choice for each school and doing something like this should not be punished in how they wanted to do this.

CSJ: More positively, there were a bunch of thrilling games this week. Which one was the best?

JAMIE: I’ll let Ben have the Big Sky. So Ill look at VMI over Woffford, 36-31. Another last minute win for the Keydets – Seth Morgan filled in admirably for Reese Udinski after his season-ending injury and led them to the victory, the 5th in 5 games for VMI.

BEN: Can you say last-second awesomeness? NAU definitely had Weber State on the run with the turnovers and lack of offense. The NAU touchdown with 17 seconds left seemed to be the nail-in-the-coffin, but a 50-yard hail mary from Randall Johnson to Justin Malone sealed the game and a top spot on ESPN’s highlights. Not to mention Rashid Shaheed had a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown right after halftime. This was definitely an instant classic.

ROB: Easily Weber State beating Northern Arizona – that last second hail mary was one for the ages. It really is saying something when a offensive lineman hook-and-ladder touchdown wasn’t even the fifth-most crazy play in the game.

KENT: I agree with others that the Weber State win over Northern Arizona was the most thrilling this week. Winning on a “Hail Mary” pass to win the game to me will always be the most thrilling type of ending to a game.

ROB: “Thrilling”, like beauty, is often in the eyes of the beholder. While the Hail Mary thrown by Weber checks the box as far as a dramatic finish, I also thought Austin Peay’s win over highly-ranked Jacksonville State 13-10 was also thrilling in another sense. Listening to the game on the internet and hearing how quickly the Gamecocks started the game got me to thinking maybe I had not given JSU enough respect when doing my weekly rankings. That changed in a heartbeat as I listened to the way the team virtually self destructed with penalties and six turnovers. JSU is still an outstanding team, but the performance against the Govs only proved that all teams will sometimes have one of those days when nothing goes right.

CHUCK: Davidson/Morehead State was a low-key nip-and-tuck affair that was tied late into the game, but the Wildcats orchestrated a late 9 play, 59 yard drive to set up a game-winning 32 yard FG by PK Caden Bonoffski for Davidson to give the Wildcats a 24-21 victory. Davidson is the only Pioneer League team that seems to have a chance to knock off San Diego, and this win keeps their drive alive to that goal.

CSJ: We have three more weeks of spring football regular season left. Will we get to the playoffs, and will it be the same 16 team bracket fans were dreaming of in February?

CHUCK: I think so. Despite the opt-outs, I think there’s enough interest in contesting the rest of the season by enough teams to make this happen. A lot of lessons have been learned the hard way through last fall and this spring, and there’s a lot of pride with a bunch of these teams still playing. Some will opt out, but not enough of them to stop the playoff push.

BEN: Pending how much spring break vacationers affect the campus, COVID totals could play a role in the cancellations for the next few weeks. Playoffs will happen, but how it happens will be a week-by-week scenario.

ROB: We should get there with 16 teams, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a ‘no contest’, similar to what happened with VCU vs Oregon in the NCAA tournament.

KENT: There are teams that either opted out just before the spring season started like Montana, Montana State, and Sacramento State that would have been favorites to be in the 16-team field. There is also another school like Illinois State that opted out after starting their season. These are teams that I felt would have a chance to be in the field and now will not be so this season will have an asterisk for this spring season because it was contested without a full FCS list of schools. But there are still some top teams like North Dakota State, James Madison and Weber State left that will make the top side still a trilling spring playoff.

JAMIE: We will get there. And it’ll be 16 teams. There’s a chance there could be a no contest like the VCU/Oregon game in the NCAA Tournament. I’m sure everyone will be relieved on May 17th.

RAY: We will certainly get to the playoffs. We all knew we would and we all should have realized that whatever shape the playoffs take will be a far cry from what we have become accustomed to. Let’s just rejoice that football is being played to some degree.