In January, the University of Northern Colorado became the fifth team to opt out of the Big Sky conference spring football season for 2021, joining Montana, Montana State, Sacramento State and Portland State.
While 30 other Football Championship Subdivision teams also opted out of their spring football seasons, 97 are still planning on completing theirs. Eight of those teams are in the Big Sky conference.
Spring football was proposed as a way to still play football with less precautions from COVID-19, but with numbers not improving enough from when the decision was made, for some teams, it doesn’t seem much safer to play this season than the one that got pushed back.
While many college programs did successfully play a fall season, it didn’t come without problems.
While dealing with the pandemic during a football season, 139 games were canceled. The virus affected almost every Football Bowl Subdivision team at some point during the season.
This had massive impacts on many conference races, with usual lock-in teams like Ohio State nearly not making the Big Ten title game because they played fewer games than other teams in their conference.
Because of the mess of the fall season and grim COVID-19 trends, many teams don’t feel like they are in any better of a situation to compete in this spring season. UNC is no different.
Darren Dunn, director of athletics at UNC, stressed the importance of player safety over playing games this season.
“Trying to play a football game in the middle of a pandemic with testing, positive cases, quarantine, isolation, and traveling, all those things are challenging when you are in the middle of a pandemic,” Dunn said. “So we just felt like we couldn’t do it safely.”
But for Dunn, player safety doesn’t stop at virus safety.
Another factor in playing spring football is weather. In Colorado, it is still highly likely to snow in February, March and even April. It has already proven to be difficult to play around the pandemic, but adding weather to the mix could prove catastrophic to a season that already had questions about flexibility.
Even if it miraculously never snowed on a practice or game day, the frigid winter temperatures still have an impact. Super cold overnight temperatures can leave the field frozen, making it much less safe to play or practice on. Players are more likely to get injured on a frozen field because it is much harder. This makes any contact with the turf less forgiving, even while players are just running.
UNC’s lack of an indoor field or facility significantly hinders the team’s ability to stick to the rigid schedule that playing games would require.
“We don’t have a lot of space to practice indoors. When we have bad weather or snow on the field, we don’t have great spaces to actually prepare to play a game,” Dunn said.
But that doesn’t mean the Bears would have competed in the fall season if the Big Sky had decided not to push it back. Dunn said that pushing the season to spring was the right decision. If the Big Sky had decided to still hold it’s season last Fall, they might not have played then, either.
“I’m glad we didn’t play in the fall. Just like we’ve been doing with everything since this virus started, we push things back as far as we can until we absolutely have to make a decision,” Dunn said.
While the team won’t compete in any games this semester, they will still be actively preparing for the next fall season. The team will hold some practices and plans to face non-conference opponents in scrimmages throughout this spring.
This schedule allows the team more flexibility to deal with potential COVID and weather hurdles while still allowing them some more time to gel with the McCaffrey staff as well as some of the new players added to the team.