2020–21 NCAA Division I FCS football season
The 2020–21 NCAA Division I FCS football season, part of college football in the United States, was organized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level.
|2020 NCAA Division I FCS season|
|Number of teams||127|
|Duration||Fall 2020 / Spring 2021|
|Payton Award||Cole Kelley, QB, Southeastern Louisiana|
|Buchanan Award||Jordan Lewis, DL, Southern|
|Championship date||May 16, 2021|
|Championship site||Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas|
|Champion||Sam Houston State|
|NCAA Division I FCS football seasons|
The regular season and postseason were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Multiple FCS conferences moved their scheduled games from the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021, and in August 2020, the NCAA announced that the FCS postseason would also be delayed.
While the NCAA at one point announced a cancellation of the FCS playoff, in late September 2020 a revised playoff schedule was announced, with the FCS Championship Game played on May 16, 2021. The championship was won by the Sam Houston State Bearkats.
Conference changes and new programsEdit
|School||Former conference||New conference|
|Dixie State Trailblazers||RMAC (Division II)||FCS independent|
|North Dakota Fighting Hawks||FCS independent||MVFC|
|Tarleton State Texans||LSC (Division II)||FCS independent|
|Presbyterian Blue Hose||Big South||FCS independent|
|Jacksonville Dolphins||Pioneer Football League||Disbanded program|
|Robert Morris Colonials||Northeast Conference||Big South|
Presbyterian played the 2020–21 season as an FCS independent, but in a scheduling agreement with the non-scholarship FCS Pioneer Football League, which it fully joined in July 2021. Under the agreement, Presbyterian was not eligible for the PFL title, but was eligible for the league's individual awards and honors. Presbyterian remains a full but non-football Big South member. Robert Morris, which moved from the football-sponsoring Northeast Conference to the non-football Horizon League in July 2020, was originally intended to join Big South football in 2021, but after the conference moved its football season from fall 2020 to spring 2021, Robert Morris was added several months ahead of schedule.
The 2020–21 season was the last for Bethune–Cookman, Florida A&M, and North Carolina A&T in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. On July 1, 2021, Bethune–Cookman and Florida A&M moved to the Southwestern Athletic Conference and North Carolina A&T moved to the Big South Conference.
On January 14, 2021, the Western Athletic Conference, which had last played football in the 2012 season as an FBS league, announced that it would reinstate football in the fall 2021 season as an FCS league. This coincided with the arrival of four new members from the Southland Conference, all located in Texas and fielding FCS football programs—Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, and Stephen F. Austin. Original plans were for the four Southland members, as well as Big Sky Conference member Southern Utah, to join in 2022, at which time the football league would restart. However, the entry of the Texas schools and the restart of football were moved forward to July 2021 when the Southland chose to expel its departing members. These schools joined Dixie State and Tarleton State, which had joined the all-sports WAC in July 2020, in the revived WAC football league. Southern Utah's entry remains on the original July 2022 schedule. On the same day, UTRGV, currently a full but non-football WAC member, announced that it planned to launch an FCS football program no later than 2024. While it did not mention a conference affiliation, its existing WAC membership makes it all but certain that the school will join WAC football.
On January 29, 2021, the ASUN Conference announced that it too would begin sponsoring FCS football in 2022, with its first five members being full members Kennesaw State and North Alabama (at the time football-only members of the Big South Conference), Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State from the Ohio Valley Conference, and Central Arkansas from the Southland Conference. EKU, JSU, and UCA will play football in the WAC for the 2021 season before moving to the ASUN for 2022. (These moves were necessary for the WAC to meet the 6-member minimum for 2021, since Dixie State and Tarleton State did not count toward the minimum as transitional members.)
The following playing rule changes were approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel for 2020:
- Players ejected for targeting will now be permitted to remain in the bench area. Previously, players ejected for targeting had to return to the locker room.
- Restricting the number of players on a team wearing the same uniform number to two; such players still cannot be on the field at the same time and must play different positions.
- Including the number "0" as a legal uniform number.
- Extending the official's jurisdiction prior to kickoff from 60 to 90 minutes, requiring a coach from each team be on the field during warm-ups, and identifying each player by number.
- Defensive teams are allowed to briefly have twelve players on the field to anticipate the offensive formation, however having twelve (or more) players on the field at the snap is a live-ball five-yard penalty for illegal substitution. Previously this foul was a dead-ball foul, called if the defense had twelve (or more) players on the field and the "snap is imminent".
- Adopting as a guideline a maximum of 2 minutes for instant replay reviews. Exceptions will be allowed in "exceptionally complicated" or end-of-game situations.
- On personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties committed by the defense during a play that results in a touchdown or after a touchdown but before the try, the offense has the option to enforce the penalty on the try, the ensuing kickoff, or on the succeeding spot (if in overtime).
- If the game clock expires at the end of a half, replay determines that time was remaining, and the game situation calls for the clock to start on the referee's signal, the half ends unless the replay determines that the clock should have stopped with 3 or more seconds left.
- May 12 – Timothy White, chancellor of the 23-campus California State University system, announced that it would remain in a virtual learning model for the 2020 fall term. Because NCAA president Mark Emmert publicly stated that athletics could not take place on a campus without students, this left the 2020 season in doubt for the system's two FCS schools, Big Sky Conference members Cal Poly and Sacramento State.
- May 19 – The NCAA announced its Academic Progress Rate (APR) sanctions for the 2020–21 school year. A total of fifteen programs in eight sports were declared ineligible for postseason play due to failure to meet the required APR benchmark, including the following Division I FCS football teams:
- June 4 – Florida A&M University announced that it would leave the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the Southwestern Athletic Conference after the 2020–21 school year.
- June 15 – Robert Morris University announced its departure from the Northeast Conference for the Horizon League effective July 1, 2020. Football is one of six sports sponsored by RMU that are not sponsored by the Horizon League. The football program was scheduled to join Big South Conference football in 2021. For the 2020 football team, the Colonials were to have played as an FCS independent. The fall 2020 schedule for the Robert Morris football team would have been played as non-conference. RMU was ultimately added to Big South football for its rescheduled spring 2021 season.
- June 25 – Bethune–Cookman University announced that it would leave the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the Southwestern Athletic Conference after the 2020–21 school year.
- July 8 – the Ivy League announced that no sports would be played until January 1, 2021, at the earliest, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has not yet been determined whether football will take place in the spring or not at all.
- July 13 – The Patriot League announced the cancellation of its fall sports season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly to the Ivy League, it has not been announced whether football will be canceled altogether or played in the spring.
- July 16 – The MEAC announces that no sports will be played in the fall, but that the possibility of playing fall sports, including football, in the spring, is still open.
- July 17 – The Colonial Athletic Association announces that it will not play fall sports, but that teams still wishing to play football can compete as independents for the 2020 season. Due to the cancellation of the MEAC season, ESPN Events announced that the MEAC/SWAC Challenge and Celebration Bowl had both been canceled.
- July 19 – The SWAC announces that it has canceled fall sports but becomes the first conference to commit to playing football in the spring, with the announcement of a seven-game conference schedule preceded by an eight-week training schedule to start in January 2021.
- July 27 – The Pioneer Football League announces that it will play a conference-only schedule in 2020.
- July 29 – The Northeast Conference announces that it will postpone football and all other fall sports, and that its Council of Presidents will reconvene on October 1 to reevaluate its plans.
- August 7
- The Pioneer Football League announces that its fall football season will be canceled, with no announcement made with regard to playing in the spring.
- The Big Sky Conference announces the rescheduling of all fall sports for spring 2021, the second FCS conference to commit to playing football in the spring.
- August 10 – The Missouri Valley Football Conference announces that its fall football season will be postponed to spring of 2021.
The regular season began on Saturday, August 29 with a game involving two FCS teams.
FCS team wins over FBS teamsEdit
There were two FCS victories over FBS teams in 2020–21.
Non-DI team wins over FCS teamsEdit
Two FCS teams lost to D-II teams in 2020–21.
All teams played spring schedules, except where noted. The Ivy League did not play in either the fall or spring.
Automatic berths for conference championsEdit
|Conference||Team||Appearance||Last bid||Result of last appearance|
|Big Sky Conference||Weber State||8th||2019||Semifinals (L – James Madison)|
|Big South Conference||Monmouth||3rd||2019||Second Round (L – James Madison)|
|Colonial Athletic Association||Delaware||17th||2018||First Round (L – James Madison)|
|Missouri Valley Football Conference||South Dakota State||10th||2019||Second Round (L – Northern Iowa)|
|Northeast Conference||Sacred Heart||3rd||2014||First Round (L – Fordham)|
|Ohio Valley Conference||Jacksonville State||10th||2018||Second Round (L – Maine)|
|Patriot League||Holy Cross||4th||2019||First Round (L – Monmouth)|
|Pioneer Football League||Davidson||1st||–||–|
|Southland Conference||Sam Houston State||12th||2017||Semifinals (L – North Dakota State)|
At large qualifiersEdit
|Conference||Team||Appearance||Last bid||Result of last appearance|
|Big Sky Conference||Eastern Washington||14th||2018||Championship Game (L – North Dakota State)|
|Colonial Athletic Association||James Madison||17th||2019||Championship Game (L – North Dakota State)|
|Missouri Valley Football Conference||Missouri State||3rd||1990||First Round (L – Idaho)|
|North Dakota||3rd||2019||First Round (L – Nicholls)|
|North Dakota State||11th||2019||National Champions (W – James Madison)|
|Southern Illinois||9th||2009||Quarterfinals (L – William & Mary)|
In late September 2020, the NCAA announced that the FCS postseason would take place in April and May 2021. Also announced was a reduction of participating teams from 24 to 16, with 10 automatic qualifiers. The first round of the playoffs was scheduled for April 24, with the Championship Game in mid-May, later set for May 16.
NCAA Division I playoff bracketEdit
|National Championship Game|
|1||South Dakota State*||31|
|1||South Dakota State*||31|
|1||South Dakota State*||33|
|1||South Dakota State||21|
|2||Sam Houston State||23|
|2||Sam Houston State*||38|
|North Dakota State*||42|
|North Dakota State||20|
|2||Sam Houston State*||24|
|2||Sam Houston State*||21|
* Host institution
SWAC Championship GameEdit
|Date||Location||Venue||West Div. Champion||East Div. Champion||Result|
|May 1||Jackson, Mississippi||Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium||Arkansas–Pine Bluff||Alabama A&M||Alabama A&M 40 – Arkansas–Pine Bluff 33|
Patriot League Championship GameEdit
|Date||Location||Venue||North Div. Champion||South Div. Champion||Result|
|April 17||Lewisburg, Pennsylvania||Christy Mathewson–Memorial Stadium||Holy Cross||Bucknell||Holy Cross 33 – Bucknell 10 |
Preseason and in-seasonEdit
This is restricted to coaching changes that took place on or after May 1, 2020. For coaching changes that occurred earlier in 2020, see 2019 NCAA Division I FCS end-of-season coaching changes.
|Austin Peay||Mark Hudspeth||July 3||Resigned||Marquase Lovings (interim)|
|Jackson State||John Hendrick||August 31||Fired||Deion Sanders|
|Austin Peay||Marquase Lovings (interim)||October 27||Permanent replacement||Scotty Walden|
|Montana State||Jeff Choate||January 22||Hired as Texas defensive coordinator||Brent Vigen|
End of seasonEdit
|Norfolk State||Latrell Scott||March 3||Hired as East Carolina tight ends coach||Dawson Odums|
|Western Carolina||Mark Speir||April 9||Fired||Kerwin Bell|
|Tennessee State||Rod Reed||April 11||Retired||Eddie George|
|Southern||Dawson Odums||April 20||Hired by Norfolk State||Jason Rollins (interim)|
|Presbyterian||Tommy Spangler||April 21||Fired||Kevin Kelley|
- "Road to the Championship". ncaa.com. 2020. Retrieved January 15, 2020.
- Martin, Jill (August 8, 2020). "The NCAA's FCS playoffs will not happen this fall after two more conferences postpone football". CNN. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
- Sutherland, James (August 10, 2020). "NCAA FCS Football Playoffs Officially Cancelled". swimswam.com. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
- Kelley, Kevin (September 22, 2020). "FCS Playoff Schedule format for Spring 2021 football season set". fbschedules.com. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
- Chiusano, Anthony (November 12, 2020). "How the 2020-21 FCS Football Season Will Work". NCAA.com. Retrieved January 12, 2021.
- "PFL Announces Updated Spring Schedule" (Press release). Pioneer Football League. February 2, 2021. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
- "Valparaiso's Washington, San Diego's Glajchen Highlight 2020-21 PFL Major Award Recipients" (Press release). Pioneer Football League. April 26, 2021. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
- "Big South Announces Football 2021 Spring Schedule" (Press release). Big South Conference. November 9, 2020. Retrieved December 23, 2020.
- "SWAC Announces Addition of Florida A&M as Full Member" (Press release). Southwestern Athletic Conference. June 4, 2020. Retrieved June 8, 2020.
- "Bethune-Cookman University is fourth school to leave MEAC since 2018". WTKR. June 25, 2020. Retrieved June 25, 2020.
- "Big South Adds North Carolina A&T University as Full Member" (Press release). Big South Conference. February 7, 2020. Retrieved February 26, 2020.
- Blum, Sam (January 14, 2021). "As WAC announces addition of 5 schools, Frisco-based Southland Conference left in no man's land". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved January 18, 2021.
- "WAC Announces Expansion, Plans to Reinstate Football" (Press release). Western Athletic Conference. January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
- Jeyarajah, Shehan (January 14, 2021). "UTRGV commits to add FCS football by 2024". Dave Campbell's Texas Football. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
- "Football players flagged for targeting will be able to remain in bench area" (Press release). NCAA. April 21, 2020. Retrieved July 31, 2020.
- Bonagura, Kyle (May 12, 2020). "California State University system to stay online, leaving fall sports up in air". ESPN.com. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
- Borzello, Jeff (May 19, 2020). "NCAA: 15 Division I programs face postseason bans over APR results". ESPN.com. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
- "Robert Morris leaves NEC for Horizon League; football moves to Big South". wtae.com. June 15, 2020. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
- "Robert Morris football to join Big South Conference in 2021". fbschedules.com. June 15, 2020. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
- "Robert Morris joins Horizon League, football heads to Big South". timesonline.com. June 15, 2020. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
- West, Jenna. "Ivy League to Postpone Fall Athletics, No Date Set for Return". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved July 8, 2020.
- "Patriot League cancels fall sports due to virus". ESPN.com. July 13, 2020. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
- "MEAC suspends all fall sports for indefinite period". ESPN.com. July 16, 2020. Retrieved July 16, 2020.
- Singelais, Mark (July 16, 2020). "Reports: CAA football won't play this fall". Times Union. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
- "MEAC-SWAC 2020 football matchups in Atlanta canceled". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 2020-07-18.
- Wilmer, Brian (July 21, 2020). "SWAC postpones 2020 football season to spring 2021". FBSchedules.com. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
- Kelley, Kevin (July 27, 2020). "Pioneer Football League to play conference-only football schedule in 2020". FBSchedules.com. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
- Kelley, Kevin (July 30, 2020). "Northeast Conference postpones 2020 football season due to COVID-19". FBSchedules.com. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
- Kelley, Kevin (7 August 2020). "Pioneer Football League postpones fall 2020 football schedule". FBSchedules.com. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
- "Big Sky Postpones Football Conference Competition Until Spring". bigskyconf.com. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
- Kelley, Kevin (10 August 2020). "Missouri Valley Football Conference postpones season to Spring 2021". FBSchedules.com. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
- "Austin Peay Football to Open 2020 at Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff" (Press release). Ohio Valley Conference. January 29, 2020. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
- Hollis, Charles (May 1, 2021). "Alabama A&M mounts second half comeback to claim first SWAC title since 2006". The Huntsville Times. Retrieved May 2, 2021.
- "Holy Cross -Vs- Bucknell". patriotleague.org. Retrieved 2021-05-04.