In this 2019 photo, Joe Fagnano of the University of Maine throws a pass in a game against Rhode Island. UMaine is set to begin practicing for the Colonial Athletic Association spring season. Credit: Courtesy of Peter Buehner

It’s all systems go as the Colonial Athletic Association amps up for its first-ever spring football season.

It is a first for the league, which opted for an abbreviated spring season after canceling the traditional fall campaign because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While following coronavirus protocols, teams in the 12-team conference are scheduled to play six regionalized league games beginning March 6 and concluding April 17.

University of Maine head coach Nick Charlton on Wednesday said the Black Bears will begin formal practices on Feb. 2, but in a different format.

“We’re going to split the team up next week and the practices will be shorter in duration. They will be high intensity with a lot of reps,” Charlton said. “We will begin practicing with the whole team the following week.”

Charlton said the plan was put in place months ago after receiving a lot of feedback from the student-athletes.

“The players have been involved physically and mentally. It’s really important to get their feedback. We’re pretty confident in our plan right now” he said.

This year, season preparations will begin while the athletes are in school, which is not the case when they normally report to campus in August for a fall campaign.

The Black Bears are doing conditioning and do walk-throughs and virtual conferences.

Charlton is examining how Football Bowl Subdivision teams handle pandemic precautions, and responses during their fall season also were beneficial.

University of New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said his program is prepared to be flexible with its practice schedule based on the weather conditions.

“You have to anticipate and make decisions based on what is coming rather than what is really happening,” McDonnell said. “If you have an ice and snow event, you may have to get up earlier or practice at night. You may not be able to practice in pads.”

UMaine and UNH both have indoor facilities for practices if needed, in addition to artificial turf fields that can be cleared more easily than grass surfaces.

UMaine may be faced with the prospect of not being allowed to host home games on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium. An executive order by Gov. Janet Mills limits outdoor gatherings to 100 people and football teams, not including coaches and staff, usually dress at least 55 players for games.

UMaine hockey teams haven’t played a home game this season due to the state’s 50-person limit for indoor gatherings.

CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio said the league will work with the state to try to find a safe way for the Black Bears to play at home. If that can’t be resolved, the league will search for alternate locations requiring UMaine to play all of its games on the road.

“If we aren’t able to play at home, we will have a conversation with our players to see how they want to handle it. We want them to have a great experience. The state and the university take a lot of pride in that,” Charlton said.

McDonnell said playing outdoors is much different than holding basketball or hockey in enclosed spaces. The UNH men’s hockey and basketball teams have experienced stoppages resulting from COVID-19.

D’Antonio said the CAA is blessed to have many competent people to handle the pandemic, including athletic trainers, medical personnel, athletic administrators and school presidents.

The CAA is following NCAA recommendations for baseline testing, which requires players to have one PCR test within three days of a game or three rapid antigen tests per week. The schools may test more extensively if they wish.

D’Antonio said that if positive tests and contact tracing leave a team with insufficient numbers at a certain position, the institution may choose to cancel.

“Ultimately, the decision lies with the conference office. But to be candid with you, if we’re in a situation where a team is down players and isn’t able to play from a medical standpoint, we will postpone it and try to make it up or cancel it,” D’Antonio said.

He stressed that having somewhat flexible guidelines within the framework of NCAA, state and university protocols is better than having a hard and fast policy.

“At this point in time, with all of us pivoting on a daily basis, flexibility is a good way to operate,” D’Antonio said.

UMaine plans to open its season March 6 at Delaware and hopes to play its home opener March 13 against Albany.