Valley may alter spring football schedule to make use of dome stadiums

When the Missouri Valley Football Conference kicks off its COVID-19 postponed season next winter, weather could be part of the scheduling mix. That was a subject of a conference call last week with the league athletic directors, who may try to make the best use of the conference’s four programs that have dome stadiums.

“We’re fortunate in that we’re in a league that has four domes so can you maximize the domes early on,” said North Dakota State athletic director Matt Larsen. “Or maybe use southern school locations?”

NDSU, Northern Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota have domed stadiums.

Larsen said the Missouri Valley will decide in the next week or two on the specifics of the spring schedule. It most likely won’t mirror what the league schedule was going to be in the fall because of weather concerns and facility conflicts.

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SDSU, for instance, was scheduled to open its Valley season this fall at home against Indiana State. The Jackrabbits play at outdoor Dana Dykhouse Stadium and a Feb. 27 opener at home may not be temperature or snow-friendly.

“That’s where some of those things might need to be adjusted, and for all the right reasons,” Larsen said.

It may not be as simple as all teams with domes host a game on Feb. 27. The Fargodome, for instance, is annually booked with trade shows and concerts.

“But also knowing a lot of the domes have events already scheduled,” Larsen said. “So it’s been a little bit of a puzzle.”

NDSU this fall was scheduled to open at UNI and host Illinois State the second week. The first outdoor game wasn’t until the third week at Indiana State. If the fall schedule held true to next winter, the Sycamore road game wouldn’t be until March 13.

The high last March 13 in Terre Haute, Ind., was 57 degrees. The city had a high of 43 the following day, not great but probably not a huge concern, either.

Two programs in the FCS that may have the biggest concern are Montana and Montana State, two schools with outdoor stadiums and no indoor practice facilities. At least SDSU has an indoor practice venue.

The February high temperatures in Bozeman, Mont., where Montana State plays, and Missoula, Mont., home of the Grizzlies, last year generally ranged in the 20s and 30s. There were occasional 40-degree days and even a few into the 50s. The average temperature for both cities in February is 39 degrees, but spikes to near 50 in March.

That wouldn’t account for having to remove snow from the artificial turf stadiums. Big Sky Conference senior associate commissioner Jon Kasper said the idea of using Big Sky dome stadiums at Idaho, Idaho State and Northern Arizona early in the season has been discussed, but it would also entail a big overhaul in the league schedule.

“Making massive schedule changes leads to imbalances, as well,” Kasper said. “If I’m a domed school or California school, do I want to be on the road late in the season for three straight weeks? How does massive changes affect what we have planned for 2021? Will a bunch of schools be traveling right back to the same place in the fall? Are you taking away potential home-field advantage for those ‘cold-weather’ locations by moving their home games to later in the spring? We wouldn’t do that in November.”

Moreover, he pointed out, Eastern Washington, Montana, Montana State and Weber State have all played FCS home playoff games in December and none have indoor facilities, either for games or practice.

The coldest days in Weber State’s home of Ogden, Utah, are in December — not February. A former beat writer covering Montana football for the Missoulian newspaper, Kasper golfed in Missoula in February.

“I remember games at Weber State with massive snowstorms in October and November,” said Kasper, whose Big Sky league office is located just south of Ogden. “Yet, after Valentine’s Day we rarely get massive snowstorms.”

Still, there are bound to be concerns. Not changing the schedule on Saturdays is one thing; practicing during the week could be another.

“For us to be able to train in the offseason when it’s not negative 10 (degrees) and 3 feet of snow out here, we don’t really get a lot done in the winter,” Montana State head coach Jeff Choate told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “One of the reasons that I am such a big downer on spring at all is we can’t practice half the time.”