The University of Maine football team will be able to host games in Orono this spring – albeit with no spectators – while conforming to the state’s COVID-19 gathering limits, the school announced Tuesday.

Maine’s first home game is scheduled for Saturday, March 13 against the University of Albany. Maine and other Colonial Athletic Association teams are planning to play a six-game regular season this spring after their fall schedules were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Black Bears open their season March 6 at Delaware.

“Everybody is definitely excited. All the guys have been working very hard to get to this point and we’re getting close now,” said head coach Nick Charlton. “I told the team last night that we would be approved and they were definitely thrilled to play home games.”

The other scheduled home games are April 3 against Villanova and the regular-season finale against New Hampshire on April 17.

In a press release, the school said University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy approved game-operation plans developed by UMaine athletics in collaboration with university health and emergency operations staff to be in compliance with both state and University of Maine System guidelines.

Currently, the state allows up to 200 people at outdoor events if they are divided into four pods of no more than 50 people each, and the pods are separated by at least 14 feet.

For the football games at Alfond Stadium, UMaine will have 70 players plus 16 staff and the visiting team will have 60 players with 16 staff. The teams, on opposite sides of the field, will separate their groups into two pods, with clearly marked space in between.

Along with the players and coaching staffs, on-site essential personnel will include the game officials, chain gang, video streaming staff, field maintenance, and police, security and EMT service. A limited number of media is likely to be allowed, according to a university spokesperson.

The Black Bears have been practicing since Feb. 2. Players, coaches and support staff have been tested three times a week, doing antigen tests on Sunday and Tuesday mornings with a PCR test either Wednesday night or Thursday, to be within the 72-hour window prior to a game, per CAA guidelines. Charlton said Maine purposely set up its testing protocols to simulate the weekly schedule during the season. He also said the UMaine football team has, to this point, not had a single positive test for COVID-19.

“The only difference will be when we get back in the state (after a road game), we’ll have to be tested immediately upon arrival,” Charlton said.

UMaine has gotten in one live, full-contact scrimmage, held on Sunday. Charlton said he was impressed with his offensive line and running backs during the 86-play scrimmage that included special teams, noting that the Black Bear defense “won on third downs.”

The CAA is one of 12 conferences in the Football Championship Subdivision planning to play this spring. The spring season kicked off Feb. 13 and runs until April 17. A 16-team playoff field will be announced April 18, with the FCS championship game scheduled for May 15 in Frisco, Texas.

Charlton said the team’s daily focus needs to be on immediate tasks leading to consistent improvement but he did not discount the long-term goals.

“This is a real season. We’re playing real games and there’s a championship at end and everyone is really aware of that and we’re treating it like a real season because that’s what it is.”


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