On March 6, 2020, students were packing at JMU. It was the final day of classes before spring break, and many were excited to take a breather from school. The softball team was preparing for the JMU invitational at Veterans Memorial Park, and spring weather was finally starting to hit Harrisonburg.
That was before JMU closed its doors for the semester — before the class of 2020 lost their graduation and before JMU football postponed its fall season to the spring.
Now, potentially on March 6, 2021, JMU football will resume its journey to win the FCS National Championship again. It’s not just JMU, though.
This year, FCS football will be different from previous years. Not all conferences will play, COVID-19 tests are as important as helmets and flexibility when scheduling games is a must.
The same goes for the CAA.
On July 17, the CAA suspended football for the 2020 year. JMU still looked for options, but no one wanted the Dukes on the schedule. Later, fall sports were suspended for the upcoming season, and all of JMU athletics' focus shifted to the spring.
Now, after months of mystery, the CAA has a plan for the spring. Though schedules have yet to be announced, the conference is splitting into a north and south division, with two out-of-conference games and six conference games. Two of the conference games will be a home and home series.
What the CAA should do now is hold a championship game between the north and south division for spring 2021.
An interesting aspect, though, is that the out-of-conference games don’t count toward the standings this spring like they have in years past. Last year, JMU played West Virginia, Saint Francis (PA), Morgan State and Chattanooga for its out-of-conference opponents. The Dukes went 3-1 in these games and certainly helped their record before conference play started.
Yes, out-of-conference games are less important than conference games, but teams still need to look at them in the same way. They count toward the record, and teams have the chance to see what works and what doesn’t.
However, those games need to be sacrificed. Football’s lucky to be on right now at a time when the country’s looking for an identity as well as a cure for the pandemic. So if the CAA is successfully able to play in March, conference games are more important.
The FCS Playoffs this spring will look different, too. In previous years, every conference had a winner based on a record from about 10 or 11 games, and then there were “at large” teams who didn’t win their conference, but their record or strength of schedule was good enough. Twenty-four teams made the playoffs, and the top eight teams earned seeds.
This year, only 16 teams will make it into the playoffs. Eleven teams will be automatic qualifiers, as they won their conference, but only five teams will be “at-large” teams. This means that with fewer games played, fewer teams will make it past the regular season.
The CAA should give each school one out-of-conference game and at the end of the year have a CAA football championship game.
There are many reasons for this. Firstly, many FBS schools, like Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, have championship games in their conferences because they’re usually split into two divisions. Since the CAA decided to have a north and south division, a good way to determine a clear-cut champion would be to take the winner from the north division and the winner from the south division and put them into one game to determine which team would get the automatic bid.
A CAA championship game would work well because the out-of-conference games don’t count. Usually in a season with about 10 or 11 games, there are four or five out-of-conference games. However, since they don’t count this year and there aren’t as many conference games, one should be cut. Teams can use their one out-of-conference game as a preseason game to shake the rust off and then get into conference action.
In spring 2021, the playoffs will be shorter and look different. It’s important that the best team from the CAA gets into the playoffs with the automatic bid, and for that to be determined, there needs to be a championship game.
The CAA has never had a championship game before. Usually there are no divisions, but with COVID-19 looming over everyone's heads, travel needs to be stricter, and therefore only certain teams can play each other during the regular season.
A championship game would bring views for the CAA as well. Fans from across the country would be interested to see how the process would work out and to see how the CAA could match other teams in the FCS playoffs.
A championship game is the only fair way to determine a winner this year, and if JMU wants to get back to the national stage, it needs to win the CAA championship.
Contact Savannah Reger at email@example.com. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.