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Still in limbo: Eastern Washington waiting to see if it will have full-contact “fall ball” practices

UPDATED: Mon., Oct. 19, 2020

EWU backup quarterback Eric Barriere throws a pass duing the first day of football practice, Mon., Aug. 6, 2018, in Cheney, Wash. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW  (COLIN MULVANY)
EWU backup quarterback Eric Barriere throws a pass duing the first day of football practice, Mon., Aug. 6, 2018, in Cheney, Wash. Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (COLIN MULVANY)

Weber State and Montana State – Football Championship Subdivision semifinalists in 2019 – have enjoyed full-contact practices.

The Bobcats recently broadcast a scrimmage to help quench the Treasure State’s college football thirst.

Idaho, Montana, Northern Arizona, Southern Utah and Northern Colorado are the other Big Sky Conference schools which have had full-fledged fall practices, a short primer for an unprecedented spring regular season caused by the coronavirus.

Eastern Washington, Portland State, Cal Poly, UC Davis, Sacramento State and Idaho State have yet to buckle a chin strap since the March shutdown.

They’re still in limbo due to their states’ social distancing mandates or hashing out the financial logistics of regular – and spendy – coronavirus testing that would allow them to have full-contact practices.

Sacramento State, which won a share of the Big Sky title in 2019, opted out of the spring season due to safety concerns.

EWU athletic director Lynn Hickey said during the summer that there would likely be inequity in the league in the 2020-2021 athletic year due the different rules in each state and resources.

It’s beginning to play out in Cheney, where EWU isn’t sure if it will participate in fall football practices before the regular season begins in January.

“We have to make a decision pretty quickly,” Hickey said Monday. “Within the next week or so, or it’s going to be too late to get started.”

Practices around the league in September and October have been dubbed “fall ball” – similar to spring ball – and must be completed 30 days before the first regular season practice.

EWU is aiming for Jan. 22 to be the first day of practice for the spring season.

The Eagles have been participating in non-padded workouts with coaches in small groups, as Spokane County remains in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan.

Pac-12 members Washington State and Washington have started practices this month in preparation of a seven-game regular-season that begins in November.

“Some of the (Pac-12 athletes) are testing every day, some of them are testing three days a week,” Hickey said. “We’re figuring out what Spokane County would allow us to do and what level of testing we would have to have in order to get there.”

Hickey said she and her staff are gathering information on a testing program and seeing what they can do with testing through the Big Sky.

Idaho State will begin three weeks of non-padded practices Oct. 21 that will be split into two groups. The Bengals won’t wear pads until January.

“Us, the California schools and Portland State are in a much different spot (with the local restrictions) than a lot of the teams,” Hickey said. “Portland State is even further behind than we are. It’s not anything we can control, and our biggest concern needs to be about the safety of students and staff. “

Safety was a big reason the conference is going with a six-game regular season schedule next spring.

The Big Sky initially planned an eight-game regular season before the start of the 16-team FCS playoffs in April, but ultimately decided eight was too many games for a four-month turnaround to the fall 2021 season.

Most of the league’s coaches are in favor of a six-game regular season, Hickey said.

“We certainly wanted to give the kids an opportunity to play, but we didn’t want to have too many games that would affect a good start to their fall 2021 season, “Hickey said.

“This schedule gives the teams the opportunity to start a little bit later and have two different bye weekends, so if a game is postponed, it can be made up.”

The schedules will be released in November.

Hickey said she wants a schedule of regional foes to save on travel costs. Idaho, Montana, Montana State, Portland State, Idaho State and Weber State are the schools closest to Cheney.

EWU was ranked No. 18 in the STATS FCS preseason poll behind Weber State (4), Montana State (6) and Montana (7).

“We don’t even know if there will be fans in the stands,” Hickey said. “A big concern is keeping (the schedule) as regional as possible to keep our costs down.

“Hopefully by the first of March, fans can come, and if not, we have to continue to save on costs, because we will miss that revenue.”

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