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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / UTC football coach Rusty Wright shouts to his players during their Oct. 24 game at Western Kentucky. After playing just one game in 2020, the 13-10 loss at Western Kentucky, the Mocs will soon begin preparing for an unprecedented spring semester with an eight-team SoCon schedule and the possibility of the FCS playoffs.

My esteemed colleague Jay Greeson first broached the idea in his Tuesday morning "Five at 10" internet column for this paper.

With its 2020 football season all but wiped out due to the coronavirus, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the rest of the Southern Conference are attempting to begin an abbreviated spring football season on February 20th against VMI at Finley Stadium.

At least the Mocs hope to play that day if COVID-19 allows it.

But — Greeson argued with much wisdom — why not consider moving to the spring every year, if only to avoid butting heads with the Alabamas, Georgias and Tennessees of the Southeastern Conference on autumn Saturdays?

Why not, indeed.

"I've thought about that for years," said Cleveland, Tenn., resident Andy Bender, a lifelong Vols fan who graduated from UTC in 1982 and has held Mocs season tickets for more than 30 years.

"I go to a lot of high school sporting events and I've always thought it was wrong that you're melting from the heat during those football games in August and early September, but you can freeze to death at baseball games in February. I've kind of wondered why you couldn't play baseball in the fall and football in the spring. I've always thought football in the spring wouldn't be so bad."

Rusty Scott got out of UTC at the dawn of the '80s after graduating from McCallie in 1976.

"I've probably had tickets for 40 years," said Scott. "I'd be for it, and for a lot of different reasons. For one, I think more local college football fans would come. I also think more high school coaches and players would come to games in the spring. And you wouldn't always be trying to avoid playing at the same time as Tennessee. I think it would be great."

Mocs super fan Pam Henry is looking forward to watching the Mocs play football this spring, but she could not be more opposed to tossing aside fall ball for a long-term spring fling.

"I am looking forward to being able to see the Mocs play this spring at Finley (or any stadium in which they would play) - not because it is the spring, but because they didn't play in the fall," Henry wrote in an email. "I am really looking forward to a normal fall of football in 2021 ... I hope we get there!"

But ...

"I certainly hope the NCAA would never consider moving FCS football to the spring for many reasons," she continued. "The most serious issue is that it would damage the FCS players' ability to prepare for and compete in NFL pro days. That certainly is not in the best interest of the players. The NFL has a lot of players from the FCS level. Matter of fact, I believe the Mocs have had more players on active NFL rosters in recent years than several SEC teams, including UT."

All of the above points are valid. And UTC athletic director Mark Wharton has considered them all. Many times over.

But the reality is that UTC football — or any other university football team anywhere — doesn't live in a bubble. There can only be a football season if every FCS program can field a team, or at least enough to have a season and stage a playoff.

To explain the difficulties with moving to spring, Wharton referenced FCS traditional power Montana and his friendship forged with Griz athletic director Kent Haslam during both men's times on the FCS executive committee.

"Montana doesn't have an indoor practice facility," said Wharton on Tuesday afternoon. "There's no way, most days, they could conduct practice outside during January and February."

To that point, the weather forecast for this Friday in Missoula, Montana, where UM is located, is supposed to be a high of six degrees with a low of minus-10 and heavy snow. Enough said.

"As (UTC coach) Rusty Wright likes to say," noted Wharton, "it's not spring ball, it's winter ball."

It's not that somewhere down the road — as the Power Five conferences such as the SEC, Big 10 and ACC begin to exert more power and independence — the FCS and smaller FBS leagues such as the Mid-American Conference shouldn't consider alternatives. There need to be changes, especially any change that could lead to more exposure and money for the little guys.

But right now, COVID-19 not exactly ready to disappear, Wharton is just trying to get through this winter and spring with as few new issues and problems as possible.

"We've already had more pauses than we'd like," he said of the coronavirus's hold on college sports and everything else in our lives. "You get so you wake up every morning thinking 'Is (another pause) going to happen today? Is it tomorrow?'"

As the Beatles once sang, "Tomorrow never knows."

But as long as there are notable FCS schools without indoor practice facilities located in towns where the temperatures can plummet to minus-10 in February, the idea of spring football past this spring would seem frozen shut.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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