Hens, Hornets may still get NCAA playoff shot; Wesley won’t

Delaware coach Danny Rocco likes the idea of there being an NCAA Division I FCS football playoff in the spring. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Delaware made its decision about the fall sports season relatively early on.

And the Blue Hens seemed to be pretty confident that they’d made the right call not to play.

But there was still the chance that Delaware could end up on the “wrong” side if a traditional NCAA Division I football national tournament was played in the fall.

“From mid-July through early August, you really didn’t know what was going to happen with FCS and the playoffs,” said Hens’ coach Danny Rocco. “I do think the playoff piece is a big piece of the FCS experience.”

Finally, though, the rest of the dominoes started to fall. With more conferences and programs canceling their fall seasons, it became clear by the end of last week that there won’t be national playoffs at the FCS level this fall.

The NCAA had mandated that at least half the eligible programs had to play a regular season for there to be a tournament.

In its own way, that’s good news for the state’s two FCS programs, Delaware State and Delaware, who may still get to contend for a spot in the playoffs if there’s a spring football season.

While none of the state’s college football coaches are celebrating that more teams won’t play this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, it does seem to make for a better situation if FCS is unified in what it’s playing for.

While Wesley College won’t have NCAA Division III playoffs this year, the NJAC has proposed a five-game spring schedule. (Delaware State News file photo)

“It creates a conversation for the spring as more and more of a majority think of moving to the spring,” said Rocco. “We, I felt, were highly motivated to play either way — whether it’s for a conference championship alone or whether it’s for the conference opportunity and post-season.

“At least in this moment, they both appear to be realistic in terms of a spring option. I think a lot of heads will come together and try to make it happen.”

Delaware’s CAA conference-mate, James Madison, didn’t cancel its fall football season until Friday. The Dukes made the national championship game a year ago.

JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne told Stats’ FCS.football.com that he thinks there would be a good deal of support for a national playoff in the spring.

“I talk to a lot of athletic directors from across the country, in our league, the Missouri Valley, Big Sky and everyone wants to try to see that happen because it’s such an important element of FCS football,” he was quoted.

But that’s not true in Division III, where the fall NCAA playoffs were also canceled last week. The NCAA has already decided that playing fall-sport national championships in the spring just isn’t going to be possible.

“Our Championships Committee reviewed the financial and logistical ramifications if Division III fall sports championships were conducted in the spring and found it was logistically untenable and financially prohibitive,” Tori Murden McClure, chair of the Presidents Council and president at Spalding, said in an NCAA press release.

“Our Management Council reached the same conclusion. Moving forward, we will try to maximize the championships experience for our winter and spring sport student-athletes, who unfortunately were short-changed last academic year.”

That doesn’t mean that Wesley College necessarily won’t have anything to play for in the spring.

Wolverine coach Chip Knapp said the New Jersey Athletic Conference has proposed playing a five-game football season starting in late February or early March.

The league would be divided into two divisions, with Wesley grouped with Salisbury, Rowan and Christopher Newport. Each school would play the other three teams in the division plus one from the opposite division.

There would then be a conference title game at the end. The understanding is that a season of five games or fewer would not count as a season towards players’ four seasons of eligibility

Even a situation like Wesley’s, where nobody will be playing for a national title this school year, at least eliminates a situation where only a small percentage of schools were eligible for the playoffs.

“There would have been a lot of questioning the championship,” said Knapp. “Certain teams wouldn’t be able to play. They’d put an asterisks by the championship. It wouldn’t be your typical NCAA championship. It wouldn’t be as good.

“It’s called a national championship and everybody’s on board. It only makes sense that everybody’s doing the same thing.”