UMaine football coach Nick Charlton hopes the NCAA approves a plan for the Football Championship Subdivision to crown a champion in the spring. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Even as summer wanes and fall beckons, University of Maine football coach Nick Charlton and his players yearn for the spring.

The Black Bears were supposed to open the 2020 football season this past Thursday in Muncie, Indiana, against Ball State. But the season went into hibernation before it had a chance to begin, when on July 17 the university announced it was postponing participation in the fall sports season.

On the same day, the Colonial Athletic Association and America East – Maine’s two leagues – announced they were calling off the fall seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the Black Bears look to the spring. Football Championships Subdivision teams and conferences are waiting on a decision from the NCAA about whether they can have a spring season, concluding with a championship.

Last week, the NCAA’s Football Championship Committee recommended that the FCS championship be held between April 18, 2021, and May 15, 2021, with a reduced field of 16 teams (instead of 24) that includes 10 automatic berths and six at-large berths. The NCAA Football Oversight Committee is reviewing the recommendation, as well as a calendar that would define what FCS teams can do in the fall and spring. The NCAA Division I Council could vote on a spring season on Sept. 16.

While nothing is formalized yet, Charlton is hopeful of having football in the spring.

“I think a lot of things have to fall into place,” said Charlton, who went 6-6 in his first season as head coach. “But I certainly think it’s possible. If it’s set up correctly, it’s possible. I know it’s something our players are very interesting in exploring.”

CAA officials have already begun looking at plans for a regular season (anywhere from six to 10 games, with a likely emphasis on reduced travel), when practices would begin, and how to navigate the pandemic. But like everyone else, they wait on the NCAA.

“Once the parameters are put in place, the CAA stands poised to be a participant in a spring season,” said CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio. “We’re actively looking at different sets of models of what a spring season could look like.”

Not every Division I football team is waiting for the spring. While all 13 FCS conferences postponed their fall seasons, there are 15 FCS programs that are playing this fall, including defending champion North Dakota State, which has just one game on its schedule: Oct. 3 at home against Central Arkansas.

And there are 76 Football Bowl Subdivision teams playing this fall, while 56 will not. Two of the Power Five conferences, the Big Ten and Pac 12, have voted not to play this fall, though recent reports indicate that the Big Ten might reverse course and start a season as early as October. FBS programs have larger budgets, more scholarships and larger rosters than FCS programs.

There are obstacles to overcome for a spring football season, especially in the Northeast where weather would be a factor if practices start in January. That, said Charlton, can be overcome, although he noted Maine’s games early in the season would likely be on the road. “We started spring ball last year in March,” he said. “We know the climate up here … If we started practicing in January, it would be all indoors. We would try to organize around the weather and would have to get creative. But it’s all very preliminary.”

And that’s because the biggest obstacle for a spring season is the coronavirus.

“The way I’ve been explaining the whole concept of a spring season is that we’ve got to jump over the first hurdle first,” said the CAA’s D’Antonio. “Either we need to (have) a vaccine or, if not, then (have) some significant change to testing in terms of accuracy, availability, cost, or all of the above.

“If we can get over that hurdle, then we can get over the hurdle to play some of those fall sports in the spring.”

Both Charlton and New Hampshire Coach Sean McDonnell hope something happens in the spring.

“I’m in favor of doing whatever we can to play the game of football,” said McDonnell. “To have some type of competitive season in the spring would be very important for everyone’s development, the players and the coaches. Everyone is going to need it after having almost a year off.”

“We want to play games,” said Charlton. “Our guys want to play football, that’s why we’re putting together a plan to play football.”

Senior wide receiver Andre Miller of Old Town said a spring season “would mean everything. To be able to able to compete for a championship would mean everything. I want to get out there and play, for sure.”

Linebacker Deshawn Stevens, who had his junior season ended in the first game of the 2019 season because of a torn Achilles, said he can’t wait to get onto the field with his teammates. “I would love to play football again, have fun out there again,” said Stevens. “It’s a dream. I know the guys are working as hard as they possibly can, trying to figure things out. I can imagine going on the field is going to be a gift.”

Charlton said if a spring season is approved by the NCAA, FCS teams would need to be able to practice in the fall. He has tentatively scheduled fall practices to begin on Oct. 5.

“If we’re planning to play in the spring, we have to prepare for it,” he said. “We want to continue to be a strong, strong program for the university.”

NOTE: Offensive lineman Chris Mulvey, who started 32 games over the last three years and all 12 last year, is no longer on the roster because of a violation of team rules, according to Charlton. He would have been a senior.


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