Patriot League Restrictions Imperil Non-Conference Football Games, Signaling Cancellations to Come

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The COVID-19-related cancellation of college football games at the highest subdivision of the sport is about to begin.

With the FCS Patriot League announcing protocols Monday for the return of fall sports, it became clear that the conference’s seven members are unlikely to play at least some of their non-conference football games—and perhaps all of them. That includes several games against FBS opponents.

The Patriot’s slate of games against FBS opponents: Colgate at Western Michigan and Bucknell at Army on Sept. 4; Lafayette at Navy and Fordham at Hawaii on Sept. 12; Colgate at Syracuse Sept. 19.

Among the league’s protocols announced Monday, which could have ripple effects felt in more prominent programs:

  • Athletes would not return to campus before the general student body. Although not every Patriot League school has set its fall academic calendar, that decision makes it highly unlikely that a football team could complete the six-week preparation period in time for the start of the scheduled season opener, as set forth by the NCAA Division I Council, before playing any games. It likely would wipe out all pre-conference scheduling in the league.
  • No Patriot League teams will fly to competitions and, with rare exceptions, regular-season competition will exclude overnight travel. That would certainly preclude Fordham from playing at Hawaii, and seemingly Colgate at Western Michigan (nearly a 600-mile drive, one-way).

Colgate put out a statement Monday that said in part, “Colgate University has not yet announced its decision for course instruction in the fall of 2020. Any decisions and/or comments concerning Colgate’s fall athletics program will follow that larger campus announcement.”

Colgate football quarterback Grant Breneman

A Bucknell spokeswoman echoed that statement, saying that the school has not yet completed its academic schedule. Spokesmen at Fordham and Lafayette said their athletic departments are still gathering feedback from the Council of Presidents decision and will make announcements soon about what it means for their fall sports.

Will other FCS conferences follow the Patriot’s lead and plot a schedule that precludes or lessens non-conference football? If so, it could impact a host of FBS programs that have scheduled those games, most notably including dozens of teams in the Power 5 conferences.

The impact at the FCS level of canceling those games also would be profound, since the schools are paid six- and seven-figure guarantees to play those FBS opponents.

Patriot League commissioner Jennifer Heppel told Sports Illustrated Monday that she is “reasonably optimistic” that the conference will play football and other fall sports, but is not ready to guarantee it.

“This is the million-dollar question,” she said. “If we can all be sitting around our Thanksgiving dinner toasting our Patriot League champions, everyone wins.”

An NCAA Division III school, Bowdoin College, announced earlier Monday that it will not participate in any fall sports.