The University of Maine is scheduled to open its spring football season on the road against Delaware on March 6, and close it in mid-April against rival New Hampshire.

The Colonial Athletic Association, of which Maine is a member, released its anticipated six-game spring schedule Tuesday morning. The CAA, like most Football Championship Subdivision leagues, canceled its fall season in July with the hopes of playing in the spring.

“We’re just excited for the opportunity to play, to get a six-game schedule in the best conference in country,’ said Nick Charlton, the second-year head coach of the Black Bears. “We’re starting early enough where we feel like the turnaround time is something we can manage looking at the fall. We’re just excited to move forward and have a little light at the end of the tunnel.”

Maine is scheduled to have three home games and three road games, though Charlton said that the Black Bears are looking to pick up one non-conference game, preferably a home game against a New England college on Feb. 27. The CAA is allowing schools to schedule up to two non-conference games next spring.

“Ideally it will be an FCS school in New England,” said Charlton, whose team is in the middle of fall practices “Everybody is having conversations with the same schools. We’ll see how things develop.”

However, the Black Bears must still work with school and state officials to work through COVID-19 restrictions. Maine is still under a system-wide travel ban. And under current state mandates, the Black Bears could only have 100 people, including players, coaches, athletic trainers, game staff and officials, at home games. College football rosters alone would have more than 100 people on them.

The state also currently requires anyone traveling to states other than New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey to quarantine for 14 days or to provide a negative COVID test.

Charlton is confident the Black Bears will be able to play and to travel, especially after Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said in a press conference last week that the state’s guidelines do not pertain to college or professional sports teams, noting that they are governed by their respective leagues.

“I’m an optimist, but I feel like (with) those restrictions, we’re going to be allowed to play and the travel restrictions are going to work in our favor,” he said. “I think the bigger issues at hand will be the capacity limits. If we’re serious about playing football, and what that means at a Division I level, certainly we have to make changes.”

Part of his optimism is that Charlton believes Maine is following all the COVID-19 safety protocols. In fact, he said, with all the testing that is being done – everyone was tested when they arrived on campus and the team continues to have surveillance testing throughout fall practices (meaning a random percentage of the team is testing each week) – Maine has not had any positive COVID-19 test results.

NCAA testing protocols could be different during the spring season.

“It will be testing multiple times a week, probably three times a week,” said Charlton. “But that could change at that time. And it all depends on where the virus is at that point … The rules outside the season and inside the season are a little different, but we will be testing very frequently in order to play.”

Maine will open at Delaware on March 6, followed by a home game against Albany on March 13. The Black Bears would travel to Stony Brook (New York) for a March 20 game, then have a bye week.

When Maine returns, it will play Villanova at Alfond Stadium in Orono on April 3, followed by a road game at Rhode Island on April 10. The Black Bears would close out the spring season on April 17 at home against rival New Hampshire.

The CAA divided into two divisions for the spring season: the North Division will have seven teams (Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Albany, Stony Brook, Villanova and Delaware) who play each other once; the South Division will have four teams (Elon, James Madison, Richmond and William & Mary) who play each other twice. Towson University opted out of the spring season.

“Our unique divisional format was developed with the goal of enhancing safety and reducing the risks associated with travel during this difficult period of time, while still providing a fair and competitive model to determine a champion,” said CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio. “Today’s announcement hopefully provides an additional level of excitement for the student-athletes and coaches who have worked hard and made numerous sacrifices over the past eight months.  As always, health and safety remain at the forefront of all return-to-play decisions that we as a Conference continue to make.”

The league gave each team a bye week to provide extra flexibility should any games be postponed by COVID-19. The team with the best overall conference record will be awarded the CAA’s automatic bid into the FCS playoffs.

The FCS playoffs were reduced from 24 to 16 teams this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The field will include 11 automatic qualifiers and five at-large bids. Playoffs are scheduled to begin on April 24 with the championship game held in mid-May in Frisco, Texas.

Maine, which finished 6-6 in Charlton’s first season in 2019, last qualified for the FCS playoffs in 2018, advancing to the national semifinals.

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