Though Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party are touting next week's Republican presidential debate as the kickoff to election season, it's unclear if any of the GOP's major candidates will actually be in attendance — or any candidates at all.

The problem isn't a snub of the channel, it's the rules for participation in the debate. The cast of characters rumored to be mulling a run for the Republican nomination is long, but only a few have formed an official exploratory committee, which is one of the requirements Fox News set for the event. So far, only Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Senator Rick Santorum have formed exploratory committees.

Michael Clement, Fox News' senior vice president of news, told the LA Times, “We’re confident that we’ll have enough candidates in South Carolina to have a vigorous and worthwhile debate.”

The debate is set for May 5 in Greenville, South Carolina, and the deadline for candidates to register has already been pushed back, from April 29 to May 3.

The requirements for participation, according to a joint press release from Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party, include formation of an exploratory committee, filing paperwork and paying fees to the South Carolina Republican Party and garnering at least 1 percent support in five national polls, among other bulletpoints.

In addition to the sparse number of candidates with exploratory committees, The Spartanburg Herald Journal pointed out, as of late last week no candidates had paid filing fees in South Carolina.

“We anticipated from the very beginning that most candidates would meet the criteria very close to the May 3 deadline,” said Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for the South Carolina Republican Party. “We plan to have a great debate on the 5th.”