NCAA Football

Montana schools opt out of Big Sky spring schedule

By CRAIG HALEY

Stats Perform FCS Senior Editor

(Stats Perform) - The stature of FCS programs that have modified plans for a spring season rose to its highest level to date on Friday.

National powers Montana and Montana State announced jointly that neither team will participate in the Big Sky's spring season and instead will hold practices and seek to play up to two nonconference games. Both programs, which are among 21 to capture FCS national titles, will be ineligible for the playoffs. MSU reached the semifinals and UM the quarterfinals in their most recent campaign in 2019.

Portland State also announced it was dropping from the Big Sky schedule and will seek a pair of nonconference games in April. Sacramento State announced in October it won't play until this fall, which means the Big Sky spring season will include nine teams if no more pull out before the schedule begins on Feb. 27.

The three schools that made announcements on Friday cited the health and safety of student-athletes as the primary reason for not participating in the six-game conference season and possibly beyond. There's been concern across the FCS over the potential number of games created by a spring season followed by the regular fall season.

"This has been a trying year for everyone," Montana State coach Jeff Choate said. "We respect the fact that each institution is in a different place in its ability to practice, compete and meet (COVID-19) testing protocols. Here in Montana we're uniquely challenged in keeping our student-athletes safe and healthy, which is our top priority, while preparing and playing in deep winter conditions."

Added Montana coach Bobby Hauck: "We want to compete this spring, but we don't believe playing a complete conference schedule is in the best interests of our program."

Of the 127 FCS programs, 24 have opted out of playing in the spring, including past national champions Eastern Kentucky and Florida A&M and some that played fall games. The Big Sky trio of schools were the first to pull out of their conference's spring schedule to seek possible nonconference competition.

Updated January 15, 2021