Stephen F. Austin plans to opt out of proposed spring season

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Stephen F. Austin football would opt out of a potential Southland Conference spring football season to focus on fall 2021, according to athletic director Ryan Ivey. 

“We don’t have any desire right now to play in the spring,” Ivey told Texas Football. “It doesn’t do anything for us as we go into the 2021 season...our goal right now would be to opt out of the spring altogether.” 

From the beginning, the Lumberjacks have opposed a spring football season because of worries about player safety. SFA is down scholarships after NCAA sanctions and ranks among the youngest teams in Texas, so focusing on developing the roster is a higher priority.

The hope is that having a developed and healthy roster come Fall 2021 would give the Lumberjacks a leg up. SFA being ineligible for the FCS playoffs in 2020-21 made the decision easier. 

“Playing a college football season in the spring, followed by another college football season in the fall, makes about as much sense as eating soup with a fork,” SFA coach Colby Carthel tweeted on Thursday. 

Instead, the Lumberjacks are fully focused on playing as robust a fall schedule as the NCAA determines will allow players to retain eligibility. The Division I Council is meeting on Wednesday, so a decision could be forthcoming. 

In Division II and Division III, the NCAA decided that teams could play up to 50 percent of their schedule without exhausting any student-athlete eligibility; that would be five games for SFA. Ivey hopes the NCAA will allow up to nine games. 

The only confirmed game on the schedule for Stephen F. Austin in 2020 is at SMU on Sept. 26. However, Ivey has multiple games lined up depending on the NCAA’s ruling. SFA is weighing options at the FBS, FCS and Division II levels to try and create as productive a schedule as possible. Some games could come against other Southland Conference foes. Games will be finalized quickly after an NCAA decision. 

“We don’t want our student-athletes to feel like they’re some sort of punching bag,” Ivey said. “We want them to have the ability to compete. We’re very strategic in the FBS games that we’re looking at making sure that we’d have the ability to compete.” 

However, all of this is dependent on players staying safe. Ivey and his medical staff are confident that they can fully follow NCAA protocols and contact trace at a high enough level to keep players safe.

“In the event we can’t do that, then we will shut it down,” Ivey said. “We’re not going to risk anyone’s safety or well being to play a game, whether that’s football, soccer, volleyball, cross country, whatever. We’re not going to do that.”

Nacogdoches County has reported 1,204 cases of COVID-19 at a rate slightly below state average. Forty-three people have died in the county, which is nearly double the statewide rate. 

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