Former AD reflects on UMaine, college athletics

Posted March 19, 2010, at 9:06 p.m.

Former University of Maine athletic director Stuart Haskell has kept an eye on college athletics since retiring as commissioner of the America East conference in 1997 after a nine-year tenure. Haskell was also commissioner of the Hockey East conference from 1988-93 after serving as UMaine athletic director from 1982-87.

Haskell, a UMaine alumnus (Class of 1956) from Old Town and a Lincoln native, started his career in UMaine athletics as the business manager in 1966 and later became assistant athletic director and eventually athletic director.

He recently completed a comprehensive sports almanac called, “The Maine Book, University of Maine Athletics 1881-2007.”

Haskell offers some of his reflections on UMaine sports and college athletics.

Q. — What team, covering all sports, do you think is the best ever from the University of Maine?

A. — The 1992-93 men’s ice hockey team which had an incredible record of 41 wins, one loss, and two ties.

Q. — Do you have a favorite University of Maine team?

A. — No, I like them all.

Q. — What do you see as the major changes in University of Maine athletics since you were the athletic director?

A. — I believe the university’s system of budgeting for athletics, initiated after I left, is counter-productive. Prior to the late 1980s, and in all the decades before, the university provided the department with a budget and we were expected to live within it. All revenues, regardless of source, went back to the university. Now, those revenues are factored into the athletic department budget. When you have to rely on income generated by the department, you have a boom and bust mentality. Poor seasons in the income-producing sports result in hardships all around. I do not envy the athletic director who has to live with this system. Another change I would advocate has to do with the playing site for home games in basketball. Again, since the late 1980s, the men and women practice daily in Memorial Gymnasium, but play their games in Alfond Arena, two venues as opposite as day is from night. This policy is also very costly in that the department must spend tens of thousands of dollars annually to install and remove the floor over the Alfond Arena ice on game night nights. This has, in my opinion, taken away the prized home-court advantage for our basketball teams. This is a harmful policy that I would scrap immediately! One cannot hope but notice how successful [University of Vermont] teams are by remaining in Patrick Gymnasium, a facility about the same size as Memorial Gym.

Q. — What athlete, covering all sports, do you think is the best ever from the University of Maine?

A. — This is a most difficult question and many will challenge my response. I cannot identify a single individual, but four who were great athletes and very dominant players on highly successful teams. … John Huard, Paul Kariya, Cindy Blodgett, and Bill Swift. Each went on to play at the highest level (professional) and Kariya and Swift were Olympians. There are many others and you can find their names on the Web or by visiting the new Hall of Fame arrangement in Memorial Gym. One of the greatest is the late Don Favor, an Olympian and outstanding in several sports.

Q. — Do you have a favorite University of Maine athlete?

A. — No, I enjoy watching all of them play. I am sorry I have not witnessed Riley Masters, the first UM athlete to break the four-minute mile barrier. What an accomplishment!

Q. — What are some problem areas in college athletics that you think the NCAA should address and attempt to resolve?

A. — Presidents of NCAA institutions already have strengthened admission standards, but the bar is still too low. One only needs to look at the recent mess at Binghamton to see what I mean.

Q. — In what ways can college athletes balance athletics and academics and how important is it for a Division I scholarship athlete to obtain a degree?

A. — I believe the graduation rate for all Division I athletes across the country is higher than that of non-athletes. A scholarship athlete carries a heavy burden, but will be the better for it in the long run.

Q. — What is your favorite novel? Sports book?

A. — I read a lot, a book about every week or two, so many I cannot remember many of the titles. The latest is Moscow Rules, a terrific story that indicates Russian rulers are not too far removed from their predecessors in how the country is governed. My favorite sports author is John Feinstein, who I have met on several occasions. His books are must reading for all serious sports fans.

Q. — What do you believe is the greatest game in UM sports history?

A. — Cannot limit it to one game. My favorites include Maine’s incredible come-from-behind 5-4 win over Lake Superior State to win the national ice hockey title in 1993, the 3-2 win over UNH for the 1999 national crown, Maine’s 84-81 win over Michigan State in 1986 in men’s basketball, the football team’s 9-7 win over Mississippi State in 2004, the baseball team’s 3-2 win over Southern Cal in the semifinals of the 1964 College World Series, and the women’s basketball team’s 60-58 win over Stanford in the 1999 NCAA tournament.

Q. — How do you rate the current status of the America East and Hockey East conferences?

A. — Hockey East is in great shape under its commissioner, Joe Bertagna. He is a perfect fit for the job. America East needs to expand its membership. For example, the recent decision by [the University of Vermont] to drop baseball leaves the conference with only the NCAA minimum of six teams. If one more member drops the sport, it will be lights out at Mahaney Diamond unless leadership takes aggressive action to shore up the sport. I am also disappointed in the decision to play all basketball tournament games at one site. Teams that finish in the upper half of the standings during the regular season should be rewarded with home games in the quarter- and semifinal rounds, As an example, Maine hosted quarterfinal round games in ice hockey, but had to travel to Hartford in men’s basketball despite its third-place finish. As a result, fans that had supported the team during the season were denied the opportunity in the postseason. Only a handful of Maine fans drove to Hartford and I am told that neither the band or cheerleaders were in attendance.

Q. — Looking back over your career in college athletics, is there one dream job you wish you could have had?

A. — Head librarian at the University of Maine!

Q. — What were you most proud of during your years as director?

A. — I was fortunate to succeed Harold Westerman, without question the best director in UM athletic history. As a result, I was able to hire coaches who are among the best ever at Maine: Shawn Walsh, Jim Dyer, Buddy Teevens, Tim Murphy, Peter Gavett, Jeri Waterhouse, Jim Ballinger, and Art Guesman. Add them to the powerful lineup already in place (Skip Chappelle, Ron Rogerson, John Winkin, Ed Styrna, Janet Anderson, Brud Folger, Alan Switzer and Jeff Wren) and you can see why the fans were happy and the stands were filled. Also, having an outstanding associate director in Woody Carville, along with Wes Jordan in the training room, Len Harlow handling sports information, and Dave Ames responsible for recreation sports, certainly didn’t hurt.

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