FCS 'spring' season a challenge at northern schools
By CRAIG HALEY
(Stats Perform) - As bad luck would have it, it snowed before New Hampshire football was going to hold its second practice last week, forcing the Wildcats to work indoors while they prepared for a most-unusual season this spring semester.
It all seemed fitting, of course.
Most schools that have football programs below the FBS level did not have competition in the fall due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. What the NCAA believes will be the first full season of spring football is more "spring" football because many schools will be outdoors for practices and games over the final two months of winter - more than half the season, in some cases. The challenge is even greater for schools in the northern states, where the weather is usually harshest.
"It's something we're going to have to navigate every day," New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said. "It's different. We're talking Maine, New Hampshire, Albany, it's a lot different (in CAA Football) from Elon, Richmond and JMU (James Madison). They're going to worry about rain and wind, stuff like that, we have to work through snow, ice, something."
"The problem right now is there's no precedent for what we're all getting to do, there really isn't," Albany coach Greg Gattuso said. "I know some schools have to deal with this type of weather towards the end of their (fall) seasons. But at the end of the day, playing in the winter is a huge challenge. When you throw in a pandemic, it becomes really something (in which there is) nobody you can call to get an answer. It's really on the individual schools and what they're comfortable with."
The FCS level is the highest level of college football in action this spring, with the first scheduled game nearing on Feb. 13. About a quarter of the 127 programs have opted out of their conference's spring schedule for various reasons, including COVID-19 and potential physical effects from having both spring and fall seasons in the same calendar year.
Weather concerns also have factored into decision making, including at national powers Montana and Montana State, which recently opted out of the Big Sky schedule.
"There's a reason why the season's in the fall and not the winter," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said.
The most-northern FCS programs that are playing a spring season and don't have home games in a dome are Maine, New Hampshire and Albany in the CAA, Eastern Washington in the Big Sky, South Dakota State in the Missouri Valley and Colgate in the Patriot League. If and when teams have to move practice indoors due to inclement weather, it generally occurs in facilities that are used by other teams and athletes at the school.
Until the weather generally improves in March and April, some of the keys for teams are creativity and flexibility. Some schools will have more practices than others, some will be more limited in the types and lengths of practice.
"We've going to have to anticipate and make decisions based on what we see coming rather on what's really happening," McDonnell said. "What I mean by that, if we think there's going to be snow, ice or cold day, we're going to have to change and get up early and maybe not go in pads."
"Like a lot of college coaches, we're all pretty sticklers with what we're going to wear on the practice field," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said. "But when it gets to a certain temperature, every man for himself. It's whatever you need to stay warm."
Whether the winter/spring season is all worth it is a question that was answered for Southern Illinois coach Nick Hill on Sundays last month.
"Green Bay was playing back-to-back (playoff) home games in the NFL," he said. "If you ask your guys, 'Raise your hand if you want to play in the NFL,' and they all raised their hand. 'Raise your hand if you would turn down playing in Lambeau Field in January.' I don't think anybody would. Championship games are won in cold weather."
Updated February 3, 2021