The University of Maine football program’s status as the most geographically isolated in the Northeast was further magnified on Monday.
Northeastern University in Boston, one of 12 teams in the Colonial Athletic Association, announced that its has terminated its football program.
“I think everybody in higher education is faced with the dilemma of competing priorities and investments,” Northeastern athletic director Peter Roby told The Associated Press. “So this wasn’t about what we were already spending. This was about what we were going to really need to spend going forward if we were really going to be fair about allowing people to compete equally.
“The status quo was not an option.”
Northeastern, which began playing football in 1993, had been a member of the CAA (formerly the Atlantic 10 Football Conference) since 1993.
“We just lost an ally in our sport,” said University of Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “You feel alone a little bit, especially if you know anything about the challenges that we face here. We just lost a regional team that we played on a regular basis and had a good, competitive rivalry with.”
The implications, from UMaine’s perspective, also include scheduling and recruiting.
UMaine now has only New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts among its New England football rivals.
“The biggest concern would be the schedule,” Cosgrove said. “It just took a four-hour bus ride away from us. I’m concerned about the challenge of playing regional opponents and being able to get on a bus instead of on a plane.”
Northeastern taking itself out of the mix also will require the CAA to revamp its 2010 schedule, which had already been finalized. There are now five teams in the North Division and six in the South.
Cosgrove anticipates the schedule will be adjusted so each team plays the usual eight CAA games. However, he fears the changes could cost the Bears a home game in 2010, as Northeastern was scheduled to play in Orono.
While sensitive to recent budget concerns at UMaine, not only in athletics but across the board, Cosgrove nonetheless believes his program is on solid footing. He bases that on the tremendous financial support it has received in recent years.
“We feel particularly blessed here that we have great support from some great benefactors — the Alfonds, the Morses, John Huard, the Mahaney family,” Cosgrove said. “We’re fortunate that we have that now in these tough times. It’s something that might have been missing in those other places.”
Cosgrove explained it was a caveat of the Alfonds’ $3.1 million donation to the stadium construction project in 1997 that the university continue to sponsor football as an integral part of the UMaine experience.
“That was part of the Alfonds’ expectation, for the university to support the program at a level that would allow it to achieve greatness,” Cosgrove said.
“That gift itself saved our program. I truly believe that.”
Cosgrove said it is possible UMaine could benefit from Northeastern’s situation, since its players are free to transfer and compete immediately. The Bears inherited three players from Boston University in 1997.
Northeastern will honor its players’ scholarships if they continue to matriculate there.
Cosgrove, who grew up near Boston, is saddened by the loss of the program. He visited NU, had friends who played there and entertained a job offer from the school, interviewing there in 2001.
“It’s one [university] that I had somewhat of a fondness for,” he said.
UM’s Williams honored by CAA
Landis Williams, a consistent threat at wide receiver for UMaine this season, was named Monday to the All-Colonial Athletic Association first team.
Williams, a senior from Pemberton, N.J., led the Bears and the conference with 71 receptions and an average of 79.8 receiving yards per game.
“He had nine touchdowns and made a lot of critical plays for us, especially down the stretch as we improved,” Cosgrove said. “I’m very happy to see him get recognized for his efforts on the field.”
Junior offensive tackle Tyler Eastman of Old Town was named to the All-CAA second-team offense, while senior defensive end Jordan Stevens of Temple, sophomore linebacker Donte Dennis and junior cornerback Steven Barker were third-team selections.
Eastman started the last two seasons after struggling with injuries early in his career.
“Pass protection-wise, I think we did a nice job throughout the course of the year,” Cosgrove said. “Tyler’s been a big part of that, playing left tackle. What he did this year in terms of protecting our quarterback earned him that spot.”