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The Citadel and Eastern Kentucky went different ways when college football hit a crossroads

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Clemson freshman defensive lineman Bryan Bresee (11) has been at least as good as advertised for the top-ranked Tigers. Here he pressures Citadel quarterback Brandon Rainey (16) during the second quarter of Clemson's victory on Sept. 19, 2020. Ken Ruinard/ACC photo

It's still September, but The Citadel's football season is already half over. The 0-2 Bulldogs will play their only home game of 2020 on Saturday against Eastern Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Eastern Kentucky has seven more games to play, including four at home.

The contrast between the Bulldogs and Colonels is an example of the disarray forced on college football by the coronavirus pandemic. The two programs went down different paths when the pandemic shut down much of the sport, forcing all 13 FCS conferences to delay their seasons until the spring.

The Citadel chose to play four games in the fall, with an eye toward competing for a Southern Conference championship in the spring.

Eastern Kentucky, of the Ohio Valley Conference, went all in on the fall season, putting together a nine-game slate that included road games at FBS squads West Virginia, Marshall and Troy. Like the SoCon, the OVC said its members could play some non-conference games this fall and compete again in the spring, but Eastern Kentucky will not play in the spring. 

"As we were going through this, nobody has a blueprint on this thing," said EKU coach Walt Wells, whose club is 0-2 after losses at West Virginia and Marshall. "The conferences showed that, the NCAA has showed that. Everybody is figuring it out on the run.

"When the OVC decided not to play, our administration asked for my thoughts. I said, 'Yeah, we'll play four games. But let's go ahead and play eight or nine or 10, let's play a full season.' And our administration was on board with that."

In hindsight, Citadel athletic director Mike Capaccio said his school might have made the same decision.

"To be honest, they may have the right model," Capaccio said. "I think it's important to play as many games as you can in the fall. We would have liked to play more, because I have no faith about playing in the spring.

"You are talking about playing everyone of our sports in the spring in one semester, and trying to manage the logistics of that. I never thought it was possible and was never in agreement with that."

Capaccio said he's still fielding calls from FBS teams that want to add games, but The Citadel has no plans to do so.

The SoCon has yet to announce a scheduling plan for spring football, but Capaccio said The Citadel will participate if spring football happens.

"We're still working through some things," Capaccio said of the league. "We have a meeting Thursday and we'll probably get some more clarity on it."

The NCAA has approved a maximum of eight games for a 13-week period that begins Jan. 23, 2021. 

The nine-member SoCon has four teams playing games this fall: The Citadel, Mercer, Chattanooga and Western Carolina. None are playing more than four games.

If the SoCon decides to play eight conference games in the spring, The Citadel may have to apply for a waiver from the NCAA in order to play 12 games in one school year. But the SoCon could decide to play fewer than eight games in the spring.

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which includes South Carolina State, has announced a spring plan to split its 11 teams into two divisions with each team playing six games. The Southland Conference announced a six-game slate for each of the seven teams competing in the spring; four Southland teams went all-in on a fall schedule.

The NCAA Board of Directors has approved an FCS playoff plan for the spring that includes a 16-team bracket (down from 24), with 11 automatic bids and five at-large berths. The championship game is set for May 14-16.

Like The Citadel's Capaccio, EKU coach Wells doesn't have a lot of confidence in a spring season.

"I don't understand why it's okay to play four games in the fall, but not eight or nine in the fall," he said. "I don't understand how it's safe to play the FCS playoffs into mid-May, then turn around and play again in the fall.

"I don't see how you develop your team and properly train them and heal them in that time frame. That puts a lot of pressure on these young men."

For The Citadel, Capaccio said if there's SoCon football in the spring, the Bulldogs will be there — somehow.

"Yes, we will," he said. "In hindsight with the whole thing, we might have been better off taking the same route as Eastern Kentucky and playing as many games in the fall as we could. The logistical nightmare of playing football in the spring, I don't know how we'll pull that off."

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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