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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / Fans won't be permitted at Finley Stadium when the UTC football team opens its spring semester schedule Feb. 27 against Wofford, but tickets will go on sale next month for games against Mercer on March 27 and Samford on April 10.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's football game against Virginia Military Institute, which was scheduled for Feb. 20 at Finley Stadium as the opener to UTC's eight-game Southern Conference schedule for the spring semester, has been postponed.

A makeup date was not announced.

UTC and the SoCon announced the postponement Wednesday as the result of "COVID-19 issues" for the Mocs, and the Times Free Press has previously reported the potential for the early portion of the team's schedule being altered. The spring semester schedule itself is the result of the SoCon and other Football Championship Subdivision leagues postponing most competition from this past fall due to the pandemic, with the Mocs playing one game at Western Kentucky.

The Mocs initially planned to return to campus Jan. 16 to begin preparing for the SoCon season, but there were members of the team unable to return on time due to being in quarantine at their homes. Once everyone had returned, there was more quarantining to be done, with multiple position groups and a coach affected.

On top of that, the exit early last month of Chris Malone has left the team without an offensive line coach. When asked recently about the timeline for a replacement, a source within the athletic department said it would happen "no time soon." The Mocs could go through the spring season without making a hire or a coach holding that title, instead taking a committee approach; current tight ends coach Jacob Huesman, the former standout Mocs quarterback, was seen running the position group at a recent practice.

"Like many programs across the country, we were forced to change our practice schedule for football earlier in the semester due to COVID-19 issues within our football program," UTC athletic director Mark Wharton said in a release Wednesday. "This delay slowed our preparation for the season and it is clear that we are not prepared to play on Feb. 20. After consulting with our coaches and athletic training staff, we feel this decision is in the best interest of our student-athletes."

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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / UTC and the SoCon announced Wednesday that the scheduled league football opener between the Mocs and VMI, set for Feb. 20 at Finley Stadium, has been postponed.

Wednesday's releases from the SoCon and UTC noted the Mocs' opening game on the schedule is now Feb. 27 at Finley against Wofford, although fans will not be permitted to attend due to the stadium's winterization limiting the amount of facilities available. Fans will be allowed in a limited capacity when the Mocs host Mercer on March 27 and Samford on April 10.

Tickets will go on sale in limited fashion for those games starting March 1. This applies to people who bought 2020 season tickets and elected to roll their tickets into 2021, as well as those who transferred ticket purchases into a gift to the Mocs Fly Together fund and all 2020 and 2021 Mocs Club members.

For those tickets, a promo code will be sent out by email beforehand that will allow buyers to get tickets for $8, slightly down from $10 for regular tickets, which go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. on March 3.

It's a good deal. Good for UTC, its fans and Finley, which undoubtedly will welcome an opportunity to have somebody — anybody — in the stadium after not having a ton of opportunities in 2020.

The spring football season experiment, though, is not off to the best of starts for UTC.

Wednesday's news was just the latest example of that.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.

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Staff file photo by Robin Rudd/ Limited facilities at Finley Stadium during the winter mean fans won't be able to attend UTC football games until late March, and then in only limited fashion as concerns remain about large gatherings due to COVID-19.

 

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