Coach Nick Charlton watches a drill during a University of Maine football practice in August 2019. The Black Bears were unable to have a season last fall because of the pandemic, but are scheduled to take part in a six-game spring season starting on March 6. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The University of Maine football team will begin practices Tuesday ahead of its six-game spring season, still unsure if it will be able to have any home games.

The Black Bears are scheduled to open the Colonial Athletic Association’s spring season on March 6 at Delaware, followed by a home game against Albany on March 13. Maine, which did not schedule any nonconference games as some CAA schools did, is scheduled to play three home games, the others on April 3 (Villanova) and April 17 (New Hampshire).

But current state COVID-19 safety guidelines – specifically a 100-person gathering limit for outside activities – may not allow the Black Bears to hold any home games. Coaches, players and support staff for just one team often exceed 100 people.

Coach Nick Charlton said Wednesday that it is too early to start thinking about the possible lack of home games.

“I will be speaking to the administration about potential plans on how we can move this thing forward,” he said. “But it really depends on what the rules will be. And I can’t speak on that now.”

Eventually, said Charlton, he will talk to the team about it.

“If we get to a point where we are unable to play a home game, that’s going to be a conversation with our players, what they want to do and how they want to handle it,” he said during a CAA Zoom conference call. “Then, ultimately, the administration and what plans we can put in place. We want to make this is a great Division I experience for our guys and obviously we have to adhere to our protocols provided by the state and the university. … At the same time, I’m the head football coach and we’re trying to create a great experience for our guys. Ultimately they are the players, and I take a lot of stock in what they want to do.”

Dan Demeritt, the executive director of public affairs for the UMaine system, said school officials have not discussed football home games with state officials as they continue to work together on other COVID-19 issues, such as vaccinations.

CAA officials are well aware of UMaine’s dilemma. Commissioner Joe D’Antonio likened it Wednesday to the CAA’s basketball season, where many schools have different protocols that have to be met before they can play. He said if Maine cannot play home games “based on rules implemented by the state of Maine, we’re going to work with (the school) to hopefully pivot and get that game to a different location where it could be played. It could mean, not knowing this right now, it could mean, if Maine wants to have a season, it could be left to play all road games.”

Asked later if that meant UMaine could play home games at a neutral site, D’Antonio said, “At this point, I wouldn’t rule anything out. If and when we need to help Maine tackle that issue, we’d be willing to explore all options to allow them to compete.”

For now, Charlton and his players are looking forward to the start of practices on Tuesday. The team will be split into two pods (a white team and a blue team) to stay under the state’s outdoor gathering limit.

“There’ll be two practice each day,” said Charlton. “We’ll follow all protocols. There are locker room restrictions, how many can go in at a time, and we want to make sure we are doing everything right. We’re following all the testing protocols. Then we will transition to the full team practice eventually.”

Charlton said practices will take place in the afternoon to take advantage of as much sun as possible on cold winter days and to give campus workers time to clear the field of snow in the event of a storm.

The Black Bears haven’t played a game since Nov. 23, 2019, a 28-10 loss at New Hampshire that dropped them to 6-6 in Charlton’s first season. The 2020 fall season was canceled by the CAA. Maine held 13 fall practices to prepare for the spring season.

The Black Bears have lost two prominent players to transfer in the offseason: offensive lineman Liam Dobson (Texas State) and kicker Kenny Doak (Southeast Missouri State). But Maine has also brought in some prominent transfers, including defensive back Fofie Bazzie (Maryland), offensive lineman Jack Webb (Sacred Heart), tight end Steve Petrick (Robert Morris), defensive tackle Austin Chambers (Brigham Young), kicker Richie Pekmezian (Indiana State) and defensive back Vince Thomas (Naval Academy).

Charlton also noted that several freshman could make an impact this spring. This season won’t count toward a player’s years of eligibility, so there’s no need to have anyone sit out as a redshirt.

“A lot are ahead of where normal freshman would be right now,” he said. “A number of them will play. It will be all hands on deck and guys have got to be mentally and physically prepared.”


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