The University of Maine at Fort Kent is returning to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, effective Aug. 1.
UMFK, which left the NAIA in 2010, also will continue to be affiliated with the United States Collegiate Athletic Association. The school had joined the USCAA in 2012 after the Sunrise Conference disbanded.
UMFK was one of seven schools accepted into the NAIA at the 76th annual NAIA convention in San Diego.
The Bengals were accorded a “returning member” exception, which makes them eligible for postseason play immediately in all sports. New institutions are normally required to go through a two-year waiting period before gaining postseason eligibility.
Athletic director and men’s soccer coach Bill Ashby said UMFK athletic teams, which include men’s and women’s soccer and basketball and women’s volleyball, will be part of a five-team league.
The teams in the league along with UMFK will be Fisher College of Boston, the College of St. Joseph in Vermont, Villa Maria College of Buffalo, New York, and SUNY-Delhi in New York.
Ashby said the league is looking for a sixth team because, as is the case in the NCAA, the NAIA requires a conference to have six teams to earn an automatic berth to the national tournament.
Ashby was extremely pleased with the news of UMFK’s acceptance by the NAIA.
“It gives us the opportunity to play in a conference and to schedule more home games,” said Ashby, who estimated that Bengals teams play approximately 80 percent of their games on the road due to Fort Kent’s remote geographic location.
“That’s harder on the student-athletes and the coaches,” said Ashby.
He also said, “This will give our student-athletes more opportunities and we should be able to extend our brand to different parts of the country.”
UMFK will be able to retain its athletic scholarships because the NAIA allows athletic scholarships.
“We have $200,000 in athletic scholarships for five sports and we have 100 kids earning scholarship money. The NAIA allows a lot more than we have,” said Ashby.
The NAIA has two divisions in men’s and women’s basketball, Division I and Division II, and UMFK will play in Division II, which permits fewer scholarships.
He said with the dual affiliation, if UMFK qualifies for national tournaments in both they will either choose one or elect to play in both, “if our budget allows.”
In addition, UMFK also announced that it will add men’s tennis and men’s and women’s track and field to bring their total to eight varsity sports. Those teams will begin competition during the 2018 season.