The NCAA Division I board of directors on Tuesday approved a 16-team spring playoff for FCS football, shrinking its usual championship bracket from 24 teams because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The FCS football championship will have 11 automatic qualifiers and five at-large teams. The playoff pairings will be announced on April 18, and the championship will be held sometime between May 14 and May 16, with the exact date to be determined.
All 13 FCS conferences postponed their fall schedules because of concerns about COVID-19.
The fall sports championships that have been moved to the spring, including men's and women's cross country, field hockey, men's and women's soccer, women's volleyball and men's water polo, will be filled at 75% of their normal capacities. Schools that are playing this fall can be considered for the spring playoff field.
"The plan sent to us by the Division I Council provides the maximum number of opportunities to fall student-athletes to participate in NCAA championships while still being fiscally responsible," said acting board chair Denise Trauth, president at Texas State. "We look forward to the spring, understanding things will look a little different but knowing the competitions will be just as meaningful as in normal circumstances."
The NCAA board of governors has mandated that all sites of each championship be predetermined and that the number of preliminary-round sites be reduced to "support health and safety operational management of the championships this spring."
North Dakota State has won the past three FCS championships.
West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, chair of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee, told ESPN that though models including brackets of 18 and 20 teams were considered, this decision was the best compromise.
"It was important as we went through this process in going to the spring that our FCS members wanted to have as much of a normal championship that they could have," he said. "Once working through it, the 16-team championship seemed to be the most viable option."
Although the FCS schools can determine when they play their games and possibly spread them out over two semesters, Lyons said they can't play more than 11 games and a championship in 13 weeks, and the regular season must end by April 17, 2021.
"It gives them time to take some time off and try to get back to a normal season in the fall of 2021," Lyons said.
The national championship game is expected to be held at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.