A spring football season for the University of Maine took a step closer to becoming a reality Wednesday when the Colonial Athletic Association announced plans for a six-game regular season starting March 6.

University officials cautioned, however, that any spring season would be contingent on state COVID-19 regulations regarding out-of-state travel and crowd gatherings, along with proper testing protocols.

“Our students are already doing the right things,” said UMaine Athletic Director Ken Ralph. “They’re here, they’re practicing and getting ready. There are things out of our control that we need help with – the civil guidance out there regarding out-of-state travel, outdoor gathering allowances. And we have to ensure we have all our testing in place.

“When you look at the civic guidance, until the state government guidance changes, we’re not playing. Hopefully we’ll buy time to get to spring and a lot of regulations will be relaxed or we can get a variance due to strictness of our testing procedures.”

Currently under Maine’s COVID-19 regulations, outdoor gatherings are limited to 100 people, which would be fewer than the number of players on rosters of two college football teams. Maine’s regulations also allow out-of-state visitors from, and travel to, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. But two of Maine’s likely opponents – Rhode Island and Villanova (located in Pennsylvania) – would require a 14-day quarantine either for a visiting team or for UMaine personnel traveling to those states.

Still, the news that the CAA, of which Maine is a member in football, is moving ahead with a spring season was good news.

“We’ve got a date to look forward to,” said Ralph. “And that’s exciting.”

The CAA suspended its fall season on July 17 because of the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, league officials stressed they hoped to be able to play a spring season. When the NCAA’s Board of Directors announced last week that the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs would be held in the spring, beginning April 24 and ending with a championship game in mid-May in Frisco, Texas, CAA officials began to develop a schedule.

The 12-team CAA will use a North/South divisional format. Each team will play six games within its division, meaning teams would have to play one divisional opponent twice. Each team will also have the option to add up to two other games (which could include games against other conference members that would not count toward the conference standings). The six conference games will be spread over seven weeks, ending on April 17. The team with the best conference record will get the CAA’s automatic bid into the FCS playoffs.

The make-up of the divisions and the conference schedule will be released sometime in October.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to play,” said UMaine Coach Nick Charlton, who coached the Black Bears to a 6-6 record in his first season in 2019. “It will be a good schedule. We want to be in position to win the division. The biggest thing about the regular season was that we had to make sure it started early enough so we could have proper turnaround time for the (2021 fall season). That was important.” ”

Asked if a six-game regular season was enough, Charlton said, “The goal is to play more.”

Ralph added that regional scheduling will reduce travel costs, an important factor considering the Black Bears lost income from two guaranteed games last fall: Ball State ($400,000) and Connecticut ($280,500).

CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio said the announcement was simply the first step to a spring season.

“Each member institution, as well as the conference office, has additional protocols that must be finalized and approved in order to ensure a safe return to the field,” he said in a statement. “Our goal in creating this unique scheduling format was to implement a competitive model while also trying to reduce the risks associated with travel as much as we could. It’s been an extremely difficult and challenging time, but it’s nice to be able to give our coaches, student-athletes and fans something to look forward to. Health and safety remain at the forefront of every decision we are making, and we are hopeful about getting the Spring 2021 season underway.”

Charlton said the Black Bears are following NCAA guidelines and performing surveillance testing on their players, testing a percentage of the team each week.

“We’re doing all the right things, our guys are following all the protocols,” said Charlton. “It’s a different time, but the guys are doing great, using the facilities, wearing masks, socially distancing. The guys are handling it well and we’re starting to move forward.”

UMaine plans to start fall practices on Oct. 12, following the same format as spring football, which was canceled this year. It will include three practices a week for five weeks.


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