Blake James may not be getting a raise but he is getting a contract extension,
James, who has been the director of athletics at the University of Maine since 2006, has received a two-year contract extension from Robert Kennedy, president of the university.
James’ extension will begin when his current contract ends on June 30 and he will make $144,000 per year, matching his current salary.
“I’m thrilled to be able to continue in this role,” said the 40-year-old James. “This is a tremendous opportunity for me and I truly cherish each day.”
Kennedy could not be reached for comment because he was traveling, according to university spokesman Joe Carr.
But Kennedy said in a press release, “During his time at UMaine, Blake has demonstrated outstanding leadership, notable integrity and a true appreciation for the proper role of an athletic department in an academic institution. Blake has done a commendable job under difficult budget circumstances and I appreciate his commitment to UMaine, our athletic department and, particularly, our student-athletes.”
James’ tenure has been marked by extremes with academic and facility improvements, but the athletic teams have struggled.
Kennedy pointed out that the student-athletes have made significant strides academically as they now have an overall grade-point average above 3.0. In 2007, Maine won the America East Academic Cup awarded to the school whose student-athletes have the highest grade-point average in conference sports.
In addition, the university has developed a statewide television and radio network, a department-wide equipment deal with adidas and several facility improvements, including the Mahaney Dome, the addition of an Alfond Arena video scoreboard, a new field hockey complex and new FieldTurf surfaces for Morse (football) Field and Mahaney Diamond.
The release from the university also said the athletic department has expanded its community outreach program, including appearances by student-athletes at local schools and volunteerism.
The negative factors include the athletic demise of several programs.
The 2007-2008 school year was believed to be the worst in school history.
Excluding the track and field, cross country and swim teams, which usually compete in multi-team meets, the other 11 sports programs compiled a record of 84-220-11. None of those teams reached the .500 mark and four finished at least 15 games under .500.
Three of the programs that had enjoyed national prominence have struggled of late.
The men’s hockey team, after nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, has gone 28-45-7 over the past two-plus seasons, the women’s basketball team has gone 12-48 the past two years and the baseball team has had two losing seasons among the past three.
Last spring, the athletic department suspended its men’s soccer and women’s volleyball programs to meet the department’s $253,000 share of an institutionally mandated budget reduction of $8.8 million.
James also looked to leave the university to become the athletic director at Florida Gulf Coast University. He was one of four finalists, only to lose out to Bradley University’s Kenneth Kavanagh.
“If I look at the body of work, we’ve done a lot of great things here. There have been a lot of significant accomplishments,” said James, who has been particularly pleased with the facilities upgrades and the academic improvement. “What we strive for every day is to win in athletics, academics and in the community.
“But given the reality of the world we live in, things don’t always go the way you’d like them to,” continued James. “That’s the reality of being in athletics.”
He admitted that his biggest disappointment to date has been the fact “we haven’t had more success athletically. If you’re involved in athletics, you’re a competitor and you want to win.”
He said there has been “nothing more difficult” than dropping the men’s soccer and women’s volleyball programs.
“You never want to offer fewer opportunities,” said James. “You’re taking away a student-athlete’s opportunity to compete in a sport they have enjoyed and participated in for so much of their lives.
“You want to offer a broad spectrum of offerings. When you start taking them away, you take away a little bit of your overall culture. Sports create an energy, a vibrancy for your institution.”
He said his decision to explore the Florida Gulf Coast University position stemmed from an opportunity to be “closer to my family.”
“It was nothing against my situation here. Maine is a great place and I don’t see me not being here two years from now,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen in life, but I’m excited about the next 2½ years.”
He said his immediate priorities include upgrading Alfond Arena and raising money for the renovation of the Memorial Gym so the men’s and women’s basketball teams can play their games there instead of at Alfond Arena.
The renovation of the Memorial Gym has a price tag of $12.5 million.
He acknowledged that he is a better AD now than when he started.
“When I first took over, I thought I knew everything. I quickly realized I didn’t. It has been a learning experience,” said James. “I think I’m in a better position to serve as the director of athletics now.”
“I’m going to continue to push us to be the best we can be. Academically, athletically and in the community, we have a great group of men and women who represent us. And I’m happy to be part of that and part of their lives,” said James.
“I’m also proud of all of our student-athletes who have graduated. There’s nothing better than to have them come here and earn a degree,” added James. “But we also want to win games and win championships and we’ll continue to push for that as well.”