(Stats Perform) - Alcorn State's reign in Southwestern Athletic Conference football has come to an end - off the field, not on it.
The university announced Tuesday it will opt out of playing in the SWAC's spring schedule amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. The Braves shut down preseason practices on Jan. 25 due to positive cases.
Alcorn State has won the last two SWAC titles in 2018 and '19 under coach Fred McNair and appeared in the conference championship game for six consecutive seasons as the East Division champion. The Braves also captured conference titles in 2014 and '15 under former coach Jay Hopson.
The Mississippi school is the first in the SWAC and the 33rd out of 127 overall FCS schools to decide against a spring season. Some schools played a handful of nonconference games last fall, but all 13 conferences postponed their league schedules.
Alcorn State was set to feature quarterback Felix Harper, the 2019 SWAC offensive player of the year, while all-conference safety Qwynnterrio Cole would have anchored the defense. The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to student-athletes due to the pandemic, so all of the Braves could possibly return when the team kicks off the fall season on Sept. 5 against North Carolina Central in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge.
"Instead of preparing for spring competition, the program will move forward with traditional spring practice to prepare for fall play," McNair said. "With ongoing health and safety protocols in place, the team will continue with monitored conditioning, strength training and practices."
The SWAC is not expected to revise its conference schedule, which is set to kick off on Feb. 26. Each of Alcorn State's opponents would have an extra open week, with the East Division competing with four teams and the West Division five. The division winners will meet in the conference championship game on May 1.