In the old normal, the McNeese State Cowboys would have started football practice at 9 a.m. today.

In the new normal, not so much.

In fact, first-year head coach Frank Wilson announced Thursday that the Cowboys were delaying the opening of fall camp while working on some way to adhere to the new NCAA guidelines.

The McNeese players arrived on campus just in time to hear the news of the delay — hoping that a "delay" is all it is.

That might be wishful thinking.

No estimate on when McNeese might start its workouts was given.

But don't hold your breath.

Suddenly, it doesn't look good for football in Cowboy Stadium this season.

The opening of practice was postponed after the NCAA's Division I Council on Wednesday handed down its guidelines for athletic departments dealing with the pandemic.

It sent a lot of schools scrambling.

"McNeese is in the process of implementing plans to meet all of these new guidelines," interim Athletic Director Heath Schroyer said in a school news release.

He refused to comment beyond that prepared statement.

But apparently the biggest problem for McNeese and others, particularly in the Football Championship Subdivision, was with the frequent COVID-19 testing.

Division II and Division III committees took one look at the new normal rules and threw in the towel, ditching their seasons entirely.

Division I was still hopeful — both the FCS (McNeese, etc.) and the big boys in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

"The Southland membership is eager to return their athletic teams to the fields and courts in the coming weeks and months," read a statement Wednesday from the Southland Conference. "Our campus presidential leaders, in consultation with their athletic directors, agreed to continue these vital conversations in the future within the parameters set forth in the NCAA Resocialization of Collegiate Sport document and the recently received guidance from the NCAA Board of Governors."

The final blow for FCS football, at least for the fall, may have come later Thursday when the 13-member Big Sky Conference was widely reported to have voted to punt on fall sports seasons.

There was no formal announcement from the Big Sky, but when it comes it would be the seventh (of 13 FCS leagues) to forgo the fall.

It would also leave the FCS way below 50 percent of its schools playing football. And the NCAA has already said that it will sponsor no championships for sports in which fewer than half of the available schools are participating.

So presumably you can ditch the FCS playoffs.

That's of no real concern to McNeese. In fact, it might be the perfect season to serve the one-year NCAA postseason ban the Cowboys were hit with for a shoddy performance in the NCAA's Academic Performance Rate.

But it might interest those who would be eligible. The Big Sky reportedly will join a handful of others in looking to wait and play football in the spring.

That is looking more an more inevitable for the rest of the FCS. Surely most conferences would adopt the spring football fling if it was the lone option.

The list of guidelines is a laundry list of safety precautions — a chart for the uncharted waters of playing football during a pandemic.

But the biggest hangup for most of the FCS, including McNeese, is apparently the testing, and the frequency of it.

It's not just the expense, although it's considerable — Tulane reportedly spent $100,000 a month this summer to test its athletes twice a week — it's the logistics of getting every football player tested at least once every 72 hours.

Many places, maybe here in Lake Charles, all those extra tests would be a real strain on the labs that must perform them and turn them around.

I've even heard it suggested that the testing provisions were put into the NCAA guidelines to force the FCS (and Division II and III) to rethink their seasons.

Sorry. But that doesn't apply.

You can mandate fewer scholarships and other rules differences among the divisions and subdivisions. It's only being realistic.

But when you're dealing with the players' health, what's good for the goose has to be good for the gander. The same rules, in this case, safeguards, must apply across the board, whether it's Clemson and Alabama or Slippery Rock and the Campbell Fighting Camels.

So don't paint the NCAA as the heavy in this case.

And, surely, the NCAA could adjust and play its FCS championships in the spring.

It's looking more and more like the best option.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at\ shobbs@americanpress.com

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