The 2021 spring football season appears to have come to an abrupt halt for the University of Maine football team.
UMaine athletics on Wednesday announced that the Black Bears’ scheduled games against Rhode Island and New Hampshire have been canceled after those schools halted activities because of COVID-19 issues.
New Hampshire on Tuesday opted out of its remaining two games of the spring campaign because of the pandemic, while Rhode Island on Wednesday morning went into a shutdown because of multiple positive COVID-19 tests in the program.
The UMaine administration is assessing all available options for the remaining open dates for the unprecedented spring season. The Black Bears were slated to play six regular-season games to help make up for the regular fall season, which was pushed back because of the pandemic.
UMaine coach Nick Charlton called the news disappointing. He said the Black Bears wouldn’t have time to prepare for a potential replacement game this Saturday and that it will be difficult to schedule one for April 17.
He expects any decision about how to proceed will be made by Thursday.
“We are going to ask the players what they want to do and assess what is realistic,” Charlton said. “The options are limited. It’s not looking great.”
Charlton gave the team the day off Wednesday as they deal with the news.
Charlton praised his players for their resilience and discipline, which enabled them to play four games without any COVID-19 cases.
“They did everything we asked them to,” he said.
Charlton said there were some positive tests in the program over the Christmas break and revealed that he also contracted the coronavirus. All later were cleared after quarantining.
Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner Joe D’Antonio said the league will do whatever it can to help UMaine schedule a game, but that it’s up to the university how it chooses to proceed.
D’Antonio said there are no limitations when it comes to playing another conference team.
UMaine might have tried to play one of the other six teams in the CAAs northern division, but none is available. A game against a south division opponent is possible as James Madison, Elon, Richmond and William & Mary are still active and have an open date on April 17.
UMaine, Delaware, Villanova, Stony Brook and William & Mary are the only schools in the 11-team conference that haven’t postponed games because of COVID-19 issues.
However, all five have had games postponed or canceled due to COVID-19 problems involving their opponents.
Stony Brook appeared to be the most likely candidate for a game but opted to conclude its season after games against UNH and URI were canceled. UMaine beat Stony Brook 35-19 on March 20 in New York.
Top-ranked JMU likely will face Richmond on April 17 as their two scheduled games against each other were postponed.
The Black Bears are 2-2 and Charlton said the four games were valuable in assessing the players as they look ahead to the fall.
He estimates that 70 percent of the roster was made up of freshmen and sophomores. The staff has already talked to the seniors about coming back, since the NCAA gave student-athletes a blanket waiver this year meaning it didn’t count as a year of eligibility.
“The vast majority of our team will be back,” he said.
The football program continues to follow all state, University of Maine System, CAA and NCAA guidelines. Antigen and PCR testing continues for all Tier 1 personnel, which includes student-athletes, coaches and support staff.