They are not linked together by anything--not geographically, not athletically, not culturally.

Yet New Mexico State and the University of Connecticut, ranked 126th and 128th (out of 130) in 2020 pre-season football rankings, have one common bond.( Old Dominion, of Conference USA (122) also chose not to play).

Neither played football last fall.

Both programs, playing without a conference affiliation, shut down their programs.

There is one large difference.

UConn did it voluntarily. 

New Mexico State did not.

And with that bit of information, the paths back to resuming football next fall appear headed in different directions.

***

Frank Spaziani is a football coach--pure and simple.

At 73, Spaz has made the circuit in a career which began more than 50 years ago when he was a highly recruited New Jersey high school quarterback who went to Penn State to play for Joe Paterno.

Spaz's playing career quickly hit its peak and he turned to coaching, primarily on the assistant level at Navy, Virginia, Boston College and for the past five years on Doug Martin's staff at New Mexico State.

There are no illusions about success in Las Cruces. The Aggies are an orphan, dumped out of the Mountain West Conference in football, playing with limited talent and limited resources and managing only marginal success.

After climbing above .500 and earning  a bowl bid) in 2017, the Aggies nose dived with a pair of 3-9 and 2-10 seasons going into last fall.

Like everyone else, they had to deal with the COVID-19 issue: To Play or Not to  Play was the primary question.

The decision was made for them when the Governor of New Mexico Michelle Lujan Grisham not only asked the two state primary universities, New Mexico and New Mexico State not only not to play, but not even to practice.

New Mexico, a member of the MWC, which offered the security of conference affiliation, argued against the request, but was forced to go out of state (Las Vegas) to put together a truncated 7-game season, with the players living and playing in Vegas for the fall semester.

New Mexico State, without the conference funding, simply had to shut down its football operations.

Fast forward the timeline to 2021 when preparations for another (and COVID-controlled) season are starting to sprout.

New Mexico State is scheduled to begin its spring practice preparations on Friday.

But the ban on even practicing in state remains.

The Aggies have not been in pads since they lost to Liberty in the final game of the 2019 season. They are scheduled to open the 2021 season against UTEP on August 28th. 

They also have road games scheduled for next fall at Kentucky and Alabama, a payday that will put almost $3 million in the lightly funded NMS athletic department account.

Simply practicing in their own facility is a major accomplishment which remains on hold.

 "They talk about the safety of the student athletes,'' said Spaziani, the frustration obvious in his voice. "Our kids haven't had pads on for more than a year, they won't let us play or practice and then they want us to go take on Alabama and SEC teams. It's dangerous."

"And if we can practice, we have to get on a bus to do it?''

The solution being offered New Mexico State is that they drive 30 miles into El Paso and Texas to practice.

"But then,'' said Spaziani, ""they want to make us quarantine for two weeks. I wonder how many people work here at the University, but live in Texas. Are they being quarantined?''

***

Randy Esdall sleeps fine at night.

The University of Connecticut football coach says he has no second thoughts about pushing to stop the college football season at UConn last August.

"Didn't then, don't now,'' said Edsall. "It was ridiculous. There is no way we could compete. We couldn't use our own locker room. It was a ridiculous. I bet if you took a survey of the coaches in the Big Ten and Pac-12 (which had shortened seasons) and asked if they felt it was worth it, the majority would say it wasn't.''

UConn will start conditioning drills for the 2021 season in a few weeks, spring practice will begin a month later. The Huskies season-opener is scheduled for August 28th at Fresno State.

UConn, like New Mexico State, lives in an orphaned world, without a conference football home.

Edsall, who guided the Huskies to a Fiesta Bowl berth a decade ago, is starting his fourth year in his second tour of duty in Storrs.

It has been a bumpy ride with only 5 wins in 30 games. 

Edsall knows how high the upgrade to even respectability is, even steeper as an independent in football.

He could have pushed to play last season, even with restrictions. 

But the risk-reward factor was too one-sided against success.

He is in the final year of a five year contract, not knowing if UConn will even have a football team in another five years.

He doesn't know how things will turn out in the next five months, but he has no regrets about shutting things down last summer.

"If you strictly base the decision to what was right for our players,'' he said,  "I have absolutely NO doubt. We did the right thing.'''