ORONO, Maine — Jack Cosgrove, the senior associate director of athletics at the University of Maine doesn’t care for word “disbanded.”
So when he was asked if the new Alfond Fund Ambassadors program means the “disbanding” of the various Friends of Maine sports boosters groups, he responded by saying “I hate that word.”
“We are going to be unified. It is going to make us a stronger, better team. [The boosters groups] all had individual identities but, at times, you lose your strength in numbers as well as the power that you can bring as a volunteer group when you are selective like that,” said Cosgrove.
The Alfond Fund oversees fundraising for the UMaine athletic department.
The Harold Alfond Foundation supplied the university with a $1.5 million three-year award in the fall of 2016 in which $250,000 per year is put into an unrestricted fund and another $250,000 per year is used to continue the Harold Alfond Football Challenge. Since 2007, the Harold Alfond Foundation has awarded annual one-to-one matching challenge grants in support of UMaine football of up to $250,000.
Seth Woodcock, senior associate athletic director for development, said he sympathizes with boosters who are concerned about the change.
“It isn’t easy. But it needed to be done. Our administration always does what we think is best for the athletic department at the University of Maine and, most importantly, the student-athletes,” said Woodcock.
The Ambassadors program will be the new volunteers group for the athletic department.
“We are consolidating fundraising rather than having individual groups with individual rules,” explained Woodcock.
It has already gone into effect.
Rather than have each Friends group sponsor a fundraising golf tournament, there was just one for everybody and that was held on Friday at Belgrade Lakes Golf Club.
Every spot was filled, according to Woodcock.
“All the golf tournaments combined used to make $50,000 to $75,000. This will earn close to six-figures,” said Woodcock.
“It will probably double our return in terms of dollars and it will also improve the donor experience,” said Cosgrove.
Cosgrove and Woodcock pointed out that instead of potential donors receiving letters from all the various Friends groups seeking contributions, they will now receive just one periodically from the Alfond Fund.
“It is a cleaner approach. We don’t want to come across as a pain in the butt. I would hope our donors and supporters would see it that way,” said Cosgrove. “We won’t be knocking on a door five or six times for a golf outing.”
“It is a positive change. No doubt about it,” insisted Woodcock. “We want to create the best environment we can for the fans, coaches and student athletes.”
Woodcock said this will also open the door for fans and volunteers to get involved in other sports programs as well.
Cosgrove said a consulting group recommended that the university take this approach two years ago.
“It took us this much time to put together a plan we think would work best for UMaine athletics,” said Cosgrove. “This has been done way ahead of us. We aren’t inventing something new. This is already in place at a number of schools.”
“We want people to feel like they are a part of all of our programs,” said Woodcock.
Cosgrove and Woodcock also stressed that if a donor wants to earmark their money for one particular program, that is where their money will go. It won’t just be put into a big pot for all of the programs.
Joe Ferris has been an administrator for the Friends of Maine Baseball for more than 30 years and Frank Jordan has been involved in the Friends of Maine Hockey and Friends of Maine Football for the same amount of time.
“I don’t think it will change all that much,” said Ferris. “No one has told me we’re (Friends of Maine Baseball) done.
“I don’t have a problem with it. It’s a different approach. They have to raise funds and it looks like they will be able to raise more funds this way. That’s a good thing. Everybody seems to be on the same page,” said Ferris.
“I know they are trying to do what other schools are doing it just hasn’t been the Maine way the last 25 to 30 years,” said Jordan. “Sometimes change is hard. But (UMaine athletic director Karlton Creech) has assured everybody that if they want to give money to one program, it will go to that program. There is no reason not to believe him.”
Ferris volunteered at the Belgrade Lakes tournament and was impressed.
“They really did it up right,” said Ferris.
Jordan feels the new approach certainly does have the capability of bringing in more money than the individual boosters groups but he warned that the erosion of the boosters groups could have a negative impact.
“The Friends groups gave the members a chance to be more involved with the program. If they don’t feel as much a part of it, it could hurt attendance,” said Jordan. “It remains to be seen. You don’t want to drive people away. You need to bring them in.”
Jordan said the alums looked forward to the Friends of Maine Hockey golf tournament every year but many of them won’t play in the one big annual tournament.
Former UMaine football coach Cosgrove countered by saying, “We had 120 players at our (Friends of Maine Football) tournament last year and maybe only 25 to 30 showed up at this outing (at Belgrade Lakes). We may have lost a big number but it’s a shared revenue and this tournament is a step up from what ours was.”
Cherie Damon, president of the Friends of Maine Hockey, said she isn’t sure if she will stay involved.
“All good things come to an end. But I hope it goes very well,” said Damon.
Woodcock also said by having everything under one umbrella, it is easier to monitor from an NCAA compliance aspect.
Cosgrove mentioned that the NCAA has stressed that the schools monitor the time requirements placed on their student-athletes and this will be beneficial in easing that burden.
It will also be a big help to the coaches because they won’t have to be as involved in fundraising.
“I spent way too much time fundraising. Between that and recruiting, I became less and less of a coach every year.
“That wore me out,” said Cosgrove, who guided the Black Bears for 23 seasons. “We hire coaches to win games. We need to take a little off their plate and help them be better coaches. That’s a real primary function.”