(Editor's note: To view the NCAA press release from Wednesday morning, please click here. To view the return-to-sport guidelines, please click here.)
The NCAA officially has a deadline.
After weeks of rumors swirling that the NCAA Board of Governors may vote on the conducting of fall championship events, the NCAA announced in a press release Wednesday morning it is directing individual schools, conferences and divisions to determine whether or not they can safely host athletic events this fall.
The NCAA also announced a decision regarding fall championships must be made no later than Aug. 21.
For Treasure State fans, that means the Football Championship Subdivision, which houses Montana and Montana State football, will determine its own postseason fate. The Big Sky Conference said in a release last week that it would meet following the NCAA Board of Governors meeting to determine its decision for fall athletics.
The Big Sky previously postponed the start dates of its Olympic sports.
"Friday, Sept. 18 will serve as the first date of competition for the traditional fall sports of soccer, volleyball, and men’s and women’s cross country, as well as the non-championship seasons for men’s and women’s tennis and softball," read the Big Sky release. "Men’s and women’s golf can compete starting on Monday, Sept. 14."
The NCAA's announcement seemingly brings hope to sports fans across the country, but the official release said the board expressed "serious concerns about the continuing high levels of COVID-19 infection in many parts of the nation. The board has determined that it will only support moving forward with fall championships and other postseason play if strict conditions are applied and adhered to."
Those requirements include following the return-to-sport guidelines released by the NCAA, which includes implementing testing strategies for all athletic activities, and that testing and results should be obtained within 72 hours of high-contact risk sports.
The guidelines also discuss the importance of social distancing, potentially training outdoors when possible, and that all individuals with high-risk exposure must quarantine for 14 days.
All student-athletes are allowed to opt out of competition due to concerns of contracting COVID-19, and member schools must cover COVID-19 related medical expenses to prevent out-of-pocket expenses for student-athletes and their families.
“Our decisions place emphasis where it belongs — on the health and safety of college athletes,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in the release. “Student-athletes should never feel pressured into playing their sport if they do not believe it is safe to do so. These policies ensure they can make thoughtful, informed decisions about playing this fall.”
Emmert admitted that each division is unique, and must "conduct a careful evaluation of the viability of fall championships."
The NCAA also set a postseason threshold, declaring that "if 50 percent or more eligible teams in a particular sport in a division cancel their fall season, there will be no fall NCAA championship in that sport in that division." Six of the 13 FCS conferences have already suspended fall play, with the other seven leagues set to meet this week.
The Big Sky Conference presidents are scheduled to meet on Thursday.