The Southwestern Athletic Conference has postponed fall sports competition and championships because of the coronavirus pandemic, and it has begun plans to push the fall schedule to the 2021 spring semester, according to a statement provided to ESPN on Monday.
The plans for football include a seven-game conference schedule that begins with an eight-week training period in January, 2021. SWAC commissioner Charles McClelland said games would begin near the end of February or the beginning of March. Each school will play six conference games (four divisional/two non-divisional) with the option to play one nonconference game.
While several other conferences also have postponed fall sports, including the Ivy League, Patriot League, MEAC, A-10 and CAA, none have announced plans for the spring as specific as the SWAC, which has led all FCS conferences in attendance for 42 of the past 43 seasons. Jackson State led the FCS in attendance with more than 30,000 per game.
"We wanted our fans to have something to look forward to," McClelland said. "We wanted our student-athletes to have something to look forward to, and we feel like this is a sustainable plan that will allow us to be able to get it done, and get it done from a realistic standpoint."
Still, McClelland said all conference decisions will continue to be guided by the status of the pandemic -- which means spring games still might not happen.
The geographic footprint of the SWAC, located in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, has seen a continued increase of COVID-19 cases in many of those states. That played a significant role in the SWAC council of presidents and chancellors' decision to move the fall schedule to the spring. The decision also was made because of data that suggests African American communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
"If there is no vaccine, if the numbers are still high, there won't be a spring," McClelland said. "We're not going to force playing. All of this is predicated on the fact the pandemic by March is under control."
Details about the Cricket Wireless SWAC Football Championship game will be released at a later date, along with scheduling details for women's soccer, women's volleyball, and men's and women's cross country. According to the SWAC, the student-athletes still can participate in conditioning, strength training and practices in all sports -- provided all local, state and federal health and safety guidelines are met.
The SWAC and MEAC typically participate in the Celebration Bowl, which honors the legacy and traditions of historically Black colleges and universities, instead of the FCS championship. Last week, the MEAC announced it postponed fall sports.
"We'll be reaching out to the MEAC and the constituents with the Celebration Bowl to see if we can't get something reenergized," McClelland said. "We would love to play the Celebration Bowl and we'll work with our partners to see if that can become a reality."
There have been no decisions made regarding schedules for the league's winter sports.