The University of Maine football team is likely to play a home-and-home series against archrival New Hampshire as part of a scheduling plan announced Wednesday by the Colonial Athletic Association.
The CAA will divide its 12 football teams into two six-team divisions and play a six-game conference schedule beginning March 6, 2021.
There will be North and South divisions and each team will only play teams within its own division, meaning they will play one opponent twice according to Rob Washburn, the CAA’s associate commissioner for communications.
UMaine will be in the North Division and its likely divisional opponents will be New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Stony Brook, Albany and Villanova. Is likely UMaine will play UNH, its closest conference opponent, twice.
Black Bears head coach Nick Charlton said knowing they have a schedule is exciting.
“Our guys love to play football and now knowing they’re going to have an opportunity to play the game they love is pretty neat,” he said.
The South Division will probably be made up of James Madison, Elon, Delaware, Richmond, William & Mary and Towson.
“All of our institutions know that today’s announcement is simply the first step in the planning process associated with playing football on each of our campuses in the spring,” CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio said. “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.”
The CAA on July 17 announced its decision to suspend its fall season with the hope of putting together a spring season.
The six conference games will be slotted into a seven-week time frame between March 6 and April 17 so each team will have a bye week. However, teams could use the bye week to play a non-conference game as each school will be allowed to schedule two such contests.
“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,” D’Antonio said. “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 also said dividing the CAA into two divisions makes sense geographically while also making it safer by limiting their travel.
The NCAA earlier announced that teams can begin playing non-conference games as early as Jan. 23.
Charlton said UMaine will explore playing two non-conference games but they would have to be the right fit.
The makeup of the divisions and the final conference schedule will be announced in the coming weeks.
The season is by no means a done deal for UMaine. Everything is contingent upon how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts things between now and then.
UMaine may have to deal with weather issues but Charlton isn’t overly concerned.
“I’ve been here six years now and if anybody can handle it, it is our players and our staff,” Charlton said. “Our guys are built for this, no matter what. We live in this climate. We’ve played in cold games before. We’ll be ready.”
He said they will be creative setting up their practices and using the Mahaney Dome in addition to Morse Field. They are working out in the mornings now, but he expects to move workouts to the afternoon during the preseason.
UMaine will run its fall program like they normally conduct their spring season. It will include three scrimmages, including the Jeff Cole Memorial Spring Game.
The team with the best overall conference record will be the CAA’s automatic qualifier to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Should the divisional champions finish with the same record, a tiebreaking policy will be used to determine the automatic qualifier.
The NCAA will choose the 16-team Football Championship Subdivision playoff teams on April 18. The field has been reduced from 24 to 16 teams.
There will be 11 automatic qualifiers and five at-large teams.
The playoffs will begin on April 24 and the FCS championship game will be held May 14, 15 or 16 in Frisco, Texas.
Charlton said being able to play for a CAA and FCS championship is essential to the framework of the season.
UMaine has been adhering to state and university COVID-19 safety protocols since the students returned to campus.
“Our staff and players have done a great job handling [the rules],” Charlton said.
Their helmets have clear shields covering their noses and mouths.
The Black Bears are still working out in pods and didn’t put on their helmets for the first time until Tuesday. Their first official full practice is Monday, Oct. 12 and they will practice three days a week.