The Mid-American Conference will begin its football season on Nov. 4 and play a six-game, conference-only schedule, with a championship game on Dec. 18 or 19, the league announced on Friday.
The university presidents unanimously approved the decision based on the recommendation of the league's medical advisory panel. A full schedule will be released later, but sources told ESPN that MAC games will take place on weeknights through the first few weeks of November and move to Saturdays in December.
"I am pleased to inform our student athletes, coaches, and fans, that the Mid-American Conference will resume the fall football season," MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a prepared statement. "Our decisions, in August and again today, have been guided by an overriding concern for the well-being of the student athletes, institutions, and the community at large. Our medical advisory group, presidents, directors of athletics, and others, have worked hard to develop a plan that provides the opportunity for student athletes to compete. We will be diligent in monitoring the dynamic health environment across the conference footprint and the country."
The MAC became the third FBS conference in two days, along with the Pac-12 and Mountain West Conference on Thursday evening, to announce it will play a fall football season after initially postponing. All 10 FBS conferences are now playing at some point this fall and will have their conference title games before the College Football Playoff selection committee determines the top four teams in the country on Dec. 20.
The MAC on Aug. 8 became the first FBS conference to postpone the fall football season because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. According to the conference news release, one of the biggest changes "that led to reconsideration" was the availability of tests and turnaround time for the results across the conference. The league also cited improvements to its testing protocols.
The conference will implement a COVID-19 testing program requiring four antigen tests per week with all positive tests needing confirmation with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Any student-athlete with a positive test will enter a cardiac screening protocol. The MAC's approved COVID-19 testing protocols will begin Oct. 5. The complete set of protocols will be released next week.
"I am happy to recommend the return of Mid-American Conference football," said Dr. Roger Kruse, head team physician at the University of Toledo and chair of the medical advisory group. "This was made possible by the ability to obtain rapid "point of care" testing. We will test four times a week to assure player safety. This protocol was unanimously approved by the MAC Medical Advisory Group and we feel confident of a safe return."
No fans or tailgating will be allowed at games, and the participation of traditions such as marching bands, dance, cheer and spirit squads will be guided by conference protocols at institutional discretion "consistent with public health guidance." The MAC is establishing criteria relative to game interruptions or cancellations, along with monitoring and reporting of test results "and other COVID-19 regulations consistent with the NCAA resocialization guidelines."
"The Council of Presidents has been having fulsome discussions with our Mid-American Conference medical advisors," council of presidents chair and University at Buffalo president Satish Tripathi said in a prepared statement. "Throughout these discussions, we have underscored that the health and safety of our student-athletes, and our entire Mid-American Conference university community, is paramount. As a result, our Conference's medical advisors have established comprehensive protocols and procedures to safeguard our student-athletes during practice and competition. We appreciate the effort of the many medical professionals who have contributed to this sound plan to initiate the fall football season."
Football is the only sport being resumed with all others (men's and women's soccer, men's and women's cross country, field hockey and volleyball) tentatively scheduled to return during the spring sports season when their respective NCAA championships will occur.