(Stats Perform) - Missouri Valley Football Conference teams always say their toughest games are against each other, so they might have extended success this fall.
The conference that is the home of three-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State won't have a conference schedule, but will allow its 11 institutions to play up to three times out of conference. The MVFC's presidents council's decision was announced Friday night after it held two consecutive days of virtual meetings to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic.
If health conditions allow for it, an eight-game conference schedule would be played in the spring semester with the expectation that it would lead to FCS playoffs. Eight other FCS conferences from the 13 overall are focusing on the spring already after canceling their fall season.
"Without question, the most important part of our decision-making process was listening to our student-athletes and hearing their feelings," said Jim Tressel, chair of the MVFC's presidents council and the former four-time national championship-winning coach at Youngstown State who's now the school president.
"What we clearly heard was that they want to play this year for a chance to participate in the FCS playoffs. It's great to know that they believe we are taking all the steps necessary to keep them safe in the process. All 11 MVFC teams weighed in with their positions on the options we considered, and all thoughts and concerns guided our thinking."
Many MVFC programs have begun preseason practices, including North Dakota State on Friday. However, Indiana State announced later Friday night it won't play any games this fall, four days after it suspended offseason activities for two weeks because six players tested positive for coronavirus.
The decision to allow nonconference opponents means MVFC programs can keep or pursue games against FBS opponents - often the most lucrative on schedules. Indiana State surrendered its Middle Tennessee State game by canceling its nonconference schedule.
North Dakota State, which has captured a record eight FCS championships - all in the last nine seasons - has had its three nonconference games canceled by the opponents, including what would have been its first FBS matchup (Oregon) since 2016.
The other three MVFC programs that qualified for last year's FCS playoffs - Illinois State, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota State - also lost FBS games this summer, but Missouri State (Oklahoma), North Dakota (Kansas State), South Dakota (Iowa State), Southern Illinois (Kansas), Western Illinois (Oklahoma State), and Youngstown State (Akron) still have matchups should they play a limited schedule.