Utica, N.Y. - The Utica College Pioneers officially have a schedule for the (technically) 2020 season.
The program released a three-game slate, Tuesday, that will see the team face Empire 8 opponents Alfred University, Hartwick College, and St. John Fisher College over a three-week span from the end of March until the beginning of April.
Only one game will take place at Gaetano Stadium on the Utica College campus, the other two contests will be on the road.
All games are contingent on the conditions and guidelines related to COVID-19 at that time.
The schedule is as follows:
Tuesday, March 23: vs. Alfred
Tuesday, March 30: at Hartwick
Monday, April 5: at St. John Fisher
These opponents are the only other private institutions, along with UC, in the Empire 8 that offer football. SUNY schools, of which many are Empire 8 affiliates for football, previously had their fall sports season canceled and will not play football in the spring.
"We can't wait to be able to [play]," said Pioneers head coach Blaise Faggiano via a Zoom call with NEWSChannel 2. "We can't wait to be able to be in the locker room together, all holding hands, doing our team prayer before we head out to the field. I can't wait to come running through the tunnel and watch the guys running out of the tunnel, whether we have fans or not.
"There have been so many other places that didn't even try, they didn't even go back to school in the fall and I really give our college presidents and conference a lot of credit because it means so much."
Faggiano specifically praised the Utica College administration itself, lead by President Laura Casamento, for giving the student-athletes the opportunity to play by being willing to do what is necessary to let it happen in a safe way.
"This is a time that you appreciate that you have a college and administration that is willing to spend to test our athletes three times a week," Faggiano said. "That's an expenditure that they are willing to make for our student-athletes to have as good an experience as possible."
In addition to the three-game slate, the team plans to hold multiple intra-squad scrimmages at dates to be announced in order to get more reps in game-like situations without the pressure or physical grind of an official intercollegiate game.
Faggiano said that the team also plans to explore plans to stream the games live if fans aren't able to attend, but that they are hopeful that by then they will be able to have some sort of spectator attendance.
Students begin to return to campus in phases for the spring semester on January 25, with practices for Pioneers athletic teams beginning on February 1. Student-athletes will be tested three times per week for COVID-19.
As of now, the football team is set to practice four times per week with three of those practices outdoors and one in the Hutton Sports & Recreation Dome on campus.
"We're going to be outside at like four or five o'clock so at least that's the warmest part of the day in central New York," said Faggiano with a chuckle. "We already told the guys it'll be like we're getting ready for playoffs, it's like playoff practice weather. We'll keep an eye on the wind chill, and we have some good back-up plans."
The unusual schedule not only includes just three games, but all games are on early weekdays. Despite the uniqueness of having games on Mondays and Tuesdays, the Pioneers are viewing it as a positive.
"When you play a game on Tuesday, our biggest practices will be Saturday and Sunday," sad Faggiano. "So there will be no classes, and we'll have the whole day to work with everyone as opposed to trying to get it in during the week with everyone scrambling."
While many may be disappointed that college football locally didn't get a full season, again Faggiano is looking at it with a glass half full mentality.
"I don't know if I'd want to play too many more than three games," he said. "Do you really want to go and play eight, nine games now? It takes such a physical toll on your body and then you turn around and do it again in August, September. I don't know about that."
He did say that having this abbreviated season will benefit the team in preparation for the fall, with over a month of full practices and games rather than just a couple of weeks of the traditional lighter spring practices.
That will allow the freshman class to get their feet wet and adjust to college football, while also not costing them a year of eligibility as all NCAA Division III student-athletes will receive a blanket eligibility waiver in light of the pandemic for an extra year.
Faggiano said that it's almost like gaining an extra recruiting class because this year's freshman will have the same amount of eligibility as incoming freshman next year.
For the returners, it'll give them more reps to be ahead of the curve once training camp for the 2021 season begins at the end of the summer.
There are three seniors on the team that will not be returning for another year of eligibility next fall due to job opportunities awaiting them following graduation in May. The rest of the senior class will be back in the fall.
With football on the horizon again, the same butterflies are beginning to present themselves regardless of the amount of games on the schedule.
For Utica College, it's been a long wait. That wait is almost over.
"In a crazy way we will find a way that we will be stronger because of this," said Faggiano. "We'll look back on this and say, 'wow, because of COVID, this recruiting class went this way or we got those extra practices in that allowed us to do some different things. There are things that all of us have learned [during this time] that we will always do."