It has been six days since Alcorn State officially opted out of the 2021 spring football season citing concerns related to the COVID-19 and its impact on the football program.
The Braves, however, are not alone in choosing to refrain from competing in what would be an abbreviated regular season on the heels of a shortened offseason marked by hastened preparations in the midst of uncertainty about the pandemic.
Alcorn State is one of 35 FCS schools to opt-out since October, including the MEAC and Ivy League which decided to forgo a formal spring football campaign.
The decision by Alcorn State — made two weeks before its first regular-season game — caught SWAC officials off guard and rangled coaches within the conference who took exception with the team continuing football-related activities despite its current circumstance.
Alabama A&M coach Connell Maynor, whose team was scheduled to open the season versus Alcorn State, criticized the defending SWAC champions saying, “if they opted out because of COVID, they shouldn’t be meeting. They shouldn’t be lifting weights, and they shouldn’t be practicing.”
Southern athletic director Roman Banks and other personnel members made similar comments when asked about the situation.
The blogosphere and social media have been wrought with opinions and suggestions regarding how Alcorn State should have handled its affairs and what the conference should do in response.
Some have gone as far as to advocate the football program be levied some form of penalty by the SWAC.
This begs the question: can Alcorn State hold football activities while other schools have committed to moving forward with contests?
HBCU Sports reached out to the NCAA for an answer. A spokesperson for the collegiate governing body indicated that according to its 74-page 2021 NCAA Division I COVID-19 Question and Answer Guide that a program that does not compete can actually function normally under some restrictions.
“If an institution will not compete at all during the 2020-21 academic year, the institution may participate in out-of-season activities in accordance with the August 19 Division I Council action that permits up to 12 hours of activities per week for the remainder of the fall 2020 term and conduct a spring practice period during the spring 2021 term in accordance with Bylaw 188.8.131.52 (spring practice) [FBS/FCS].”
The NCAA’s Division I council in August approved a 12-hour schedule model for teams not playing in the fall for COVID-19 reasons that include time for strength and conditioning, meetings, and five hours of on-field activities with helmets per week.
That model went into effect through Oct. 4, though the NCAA did not specifically indicate whether the provision applied for schools not playing a spring season.
The NCAA’s COVID-19-related legislation only restricts schools not playing during the 2020-21 academic year from participating in “fall ball,” (or football-related sanctioned activities that began Sept. 21 through Dec. 31) and then what is classified as “spring ball.”
Alcorn State initially began spring football workouts in November before the program halted its pursuit of a spring regular-season on Feb. 9.