The Eastern Kentucky University football team will have an opportunity to play for a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national championship in 2021 because of a unique - and likely short-term - partnership.
The Western Athletic Conference and the Atlantic Sun Conference announced on Tuesday the leagues would join forces for the upcoming season. The seven-school coalition, known as the AQ7, will take part in ASUN-WAC Challenge.
Teams will play a six-game conference schedule and the school with the highest winning percentage will get an automatic bid the FCS Playoffs.
In addition to EKU, the AQ7 will include Jacksonville State, Central Arkansas along with four WAC schools from Texas - Lamar, Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State.
"This is a unique opportunity in a unique time," EKU President David McFaddin said at a press conference Tuesday in Atlanta.
The unique situation was set up by a complicated series of events.
EKU officials announced last month the school was leaving the Ohio Valley Conference after more than seven decades to join the ASUN. The Colonels were joined by Jacksonville State (OVC) and Central Arkansas (Southland).
Those additions gave the ASUN five football-playing schools (Kennesaw State and North Alabama), as the league put plans in motion to sponsor the sport for the first time. The potential new football league, however, would not have the six members required to get an automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs.
ASUN officials sought out a sixth member after the addition of EKU, JSU and Central Arkansas, but could not get a commitment from another institution for the 2021 season.
That process is still ongoing.
"We are aggressively looking for our next partner," McFaddin said.
The WAC was scheduled to bring back football in 2022, but several members were interested in starting back into league competition a year early. However, in 2021 that league would not have enough schools to qualify for an automatic playoff bid, either.
"The ASUN and WAC are proud to be building opportunities for our student-athletes to compete at the highest level," ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart said. "This partnership provides teams in both leagues a path to an automatic bid and elevates the ASUN and WAC to a new level of competition. We look forward to creating more innovative ways to promote ASUN Football as an NCAA FCS league in 2021 and beyond."
The Colonels played as an FCS independent - along with Central Arkansas - last fall after opting out of the OVC's spring schedule. EKU finished 3-6 and will not be eligible for the FCS Playoffs, which will get under way in April.
The ASUN-WAC partnership is set for just one year at this point and does have interesting implications for both leagues.
WAC members Tarleton State and Dixie State will take part in the challenge, but will not be eligible for the conference championship or the automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs as they reclassify to Division I membership.
Kennesaw State and North Alabama will continue to play football in the Big South Conference. Liberty (ASUN) and New Mexico (WAC) are set to remain as Football Bowl Subdivision Championship independents. Stetson (ASUN) will remain in the non-scholarship Pioneer League.
On Tuesday morning after the joint announcement by the WAC and ASUN, EKU released its 2021 football schedule.
The Colonels will play six home games - Indiana State (Sept. 18), Austin Peay (Sept. 25), Tartleton State (Oct. 2), Abilene Christian (Oct. 9), Lamar (Oct. 30) and Jacksonville State (Nov. 20).
EKU road games include Western Carolina (Sept. 4), Louisville (Sept. 11), Central Arkansas (Oct. 16), Stephen F. Austin (Nov. 6) and Sam Houston State (Nov. 13).