SHORTLY AFTER Super Bowl LV ends Feb. 7, another football league may just be getting started. Rest assured, we’re not talking about the next version of the XFL.
The Colonial Athletic Association announced in July that it had postponed the conference’s 2020 football season due to concerns associated with COVID-19. The CAA is a 12-team conference that includes the University of New Hampshire.
At the time of that announcement there were rumblings about a possible spring season, and all signs point to that still being a realistic possibility. If a season does materialize, it would certainly tweak the meaning of spring practice.
“We’re having weekly calls — CAA AD calls — and there are weekly CAA coaches calls,” UNH athletic director Marty Scarano said. “We’re working toward that end. I think everybody is on board relative to playing a season in the spring. I would say we’re hopeful.”
Scarano said each CAA team would likely play at least six regular season games, and perhaps as many as eight. The possibility of playing schools outside of the CAA is also being discussed.
The FCS championship committee has recommended that the FCS playoffs be held from April 18 to May 15. That means the CAA season would likely begin sometime in February, right after the NFL season has wrapped up.
“That gives us kind of a foundation to work off and work backwards,” Scarano said. “As soon as the kids get back (from the holiday break) in January we can start a preseason. Nothing like a preseason in January.
“We’re working on scenarios. We don’t have one that’s yet that’s approved or determined.”
Scarano said he’s not in favor of playing non-conference games in part because of the uncertainty regarding testing protocols schools outside the CAA would use. Will other schools test as thoroughly as CAA schools will?
“We haven’t determined if we’re going to play out of conference yet,” he said. “That’s a big question. For me the testing protocols are still the foundation. We have to get a standard we’re all comfortable with. Whether it’s Hockey East or CAA, I am not in favor of out-of-conference play.”
The possibility of a CAA championship game also exists. In that scenario, the conference would be divided into two six-team divisions and the winner of each division would meet for the CAA title. The winner would earn an automatic berth to the FCS playoffs.
The NCAA has yet to approve an FCS playoff format. A 16-team field has been mentioned (10 automatic qualifiers and six at-large berths). Scarano said a 20-team playoff field is also under consideration.
“The championship game is one of the scenarios and I would say it’s a likely scenario,” Scarano said. “Some are in favor of it, some are not. Personally, because of my FCS committee work, I don’t think it’s a good idea because let’s say James Madison wins one division and New Hampshire wins the other division, and let’s say we enter that game at 4-2. You go down there and lose, you’ve probably lost a bid and an FCS playoff game.
“I think there’s a big concern about the expense of it (a CAA championship game) too. No one has any money left (to travel). I’m not saying it’s not going to get voted in. I’m just saying there’s a difference of opinion on the championship.”
The NCAA has granted fall athletes an extra year of eligibility even if there is a spring season. That’s good news to many, but it will also create some issues with regard to available scholarships. Next season teams will add scholarship freshmen to the roster, but some current seniors on scholarship who take advantage of the extra season will still be on the roster as well.
That’s a problem to be solved another day, however. For now the focus is squeezing in a season before the end of the school year. Whether or not fans will be allowed to attend games if they’re played is a question that will be answered at a later date as well.
“It’s going to be daunting,” Scarano said.
It may not be your typical spring, but a matchup with Maine is a lot more appealing than watching the Blue-White game.