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Florida A&M-UNC game in jeopardy as Rattlers' players discuss safety concerns, eligibility issues

FAMU President Dr. Larry Robinson is in Chapel Hill, N.C., working to get game played

Florida A&M had been set for arguably Football Championship Subdivision’s two biggest games to help launch the 2022 college football season, with the Rattlers scheduled Saturday to play at Atlantic Coast Conference resident North Carolina and eight days later face Deion Sanders’s Jackson State squad at the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami.

Now? FAMU coach Willie Simmons is trying to get a handle on exactly what his team is going to be capable of in the immediate future with chaos threatening to disrupt the Rattlers’ season before it starts.

HBCU sources tell FootballScoop that the Rattlers potentially have a number of players who have been declared ineligible, at least for the game against the Tar Heels, and that other players have strong concerns about the possibility of opening the season with such limited numbers.

If, for example, the Rattlers had some two dozen players deemed ineligible for this game, that would leave Simmons’ roster with less than 40 scholarship players; the FCS maximum is 63 scholarship players on roster. One source with knowledge told FootballScoop that FAMU potentially had 26 players initially ruled ineligible for the contest. 

Though not exactly the same circumstance, it’s worth noting that as the sport of college football navigated the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, with virtually all conferences at the Football Bowls Subdivision level requiring teams to carry at least 53 scholarship players – from an 85-man roster – to avoid either a forfeit/non-competition ruling.

Those roster minimums were made as a safety precaution, and it’s clear players in this instance appear to be taking a stand against what could similarly be a potentially dangerous health and safety situation if the Rattlers have less than 40 scholarship players against the bigger, 85-man roster of the host Tar Heels. Sources told FootballScoop the Rattlers' remaining, eligible players were discussing the potential boycott of the game. 

Florida A&M President Dr. Larry Robinson already was on campus in Chapel Hill, N.C, Friday, per sources, who said Robinson called FAMU officials back on the Tallahassee, Florida, campus and told them the expectation was to play the game. 

The Rattlers' athletics department. per the game's original contract, was set to receive a $450,000 payment for the up-division "guarantee game" against Mack Brown's UNC program. If FAMU is forced to cancel for reasons within its control -- such as the eligibility of its players and not, for instance, in the event of a natural disaster -- then standard contract language then requires that program to be on the hook monetarily to the host institution. 

Simmons led the Rattlers one year ago to a dynamic 9-3 season that included an FCS Playoffs berth. 

Update: Alison Posey is reporting Simmons plans to allow the players to decide if they are going to play this game:

Further update: Game is on!