The football fallback plan for McNeese State and the Southland Conference was to spring forward.
The league on Thursday made it official — the Southland will postpone its conference schedule in football and all other fall sports until the spring.
That was no surprise — when the Southern Conference also postponed its league schedule Thursday, it left all 13 of the Football Championship Subdivision conferences opting out of doing league play this fall, most with an eye on the spring.
McNeese interim athletic director Heath Schroyer said the safety of the players and the advice of medical advisers in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic was the overriding factor.
But the Southland, as did most other conferences, also left its schools with the option to play nonconference football games in the fall.
McNeese, however, will not exercise that option, even though the Cowboys were scheduled to open the season on Sept. 5 at longtime rival Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference.
"If the (medical) professionals said it wasn't safe enough for us to go play conference games in the fall then I had a really hard time sending your young men, our football team, to get on a bus and go play a game for a paycheck," Schroyer said.
The McNeese team was on the practice field when it got the news, although first-year head coach Frank Wilson was unavailable for comment.
Now, Schroyer said, the football team will go into offseason mode, with no more than 10 hours per week of conditioning workouts. He also said it was expected, though nothing is official, that the NCAA will make provisions for the numerous affected schools to have a few weeks of football drills similar to the spring practices in normal years.
"This decision impacts many people including our fans, alumni, marching band, dance team and cheerleaders," Schroyer said. "But it is the right decision.
"Everyone wanted to play. We're all competitive. We were trying to hang on until there was something that could tip us back."
The conference allowed its schools the nonconference option for the fall since many FCS schools depend on the paydays from playing larger schools to help to balance the budgets.
McNeese was scheduled to get just a little over $200,000 from the trip to Lafayette for a game many Cowboy fans were looking forward to.
UL-Lafayette was the only nonconference game that McNeese would have considered playing, according to Schroyer.
"We'll try to set up another date and play in the very near future," he said. "I'd be shocked and very disappointed if that game wasn't rescheduled."
Southland Conference commissioner Tom Burnett said the league will begin immediately making plans for the spring football season, which will be an undetermined number of conference games only. The NCAA is also expected to move the FCS playoffs to the spring.
Burnett said he expects the playoffs may be reduced from the current 24-team format.
Stephen F. Austin, on the other hand, is looking to play its whole schedule in the fall — which would elminate it from the league's spring schedule.
The Southland may have one less team when it gets to the spring.
"We have no desire to play in the spring," SFA head coach Colby Carthel told TV station KTRE, citing the strain of coming back and playing another full season in the next fall.
"We're going to put together as full of a schedule as we can and get to play some unique teams. I think it's going to be exciting. We're going to look to put 11 games on the docket this fall."
The sticking point among the Southland's school presidents, apparently, was the playing of nonconference games in the fall.
"It was not unanimous," Schroyer said. "And it's probably not as united as I would hope.
"But I don't know that there was a lot of argument. I don't think anybody didn't want to play football."
The Louisiana members won't, at least not in the fall. McNeese was joined by Southeastern Louisiana, Northwestern State and Nicholls State in shutting down for the fall.
"The was more of a consensus within our state, Schroyer said. "And the majority of the teams in our league will land where we landed."
But Central Arkansas sent out a release stating that it was planning on playing nonconference games against Arkansas State and Austin Peay.
Houston Baptist said that it planned to play its scheduled nonconference games against Texas Tech, North Texas and Louisiana Tech.
"I think a split season, trying to play some games in the fall and trying to play some games in the spring, I don't understand it. If our league has determined that it's not safe in the fall, I have no idea how other teams in our league want to schedule each other, let alone get on planes and go play other people.
"I don't think it's a good look. But everybody had to make their own decision."