December 12, 2018
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How a Maine small college is cashing in on ‘guarantee games’

Courtesy of University of Maine at Fort Kent Athletics
Courtesy of University of Maine at Fort Kent Athletics
University of Maine at Fort Kent men's basketball representatives including (from left) Troy Williams, Bobby Syvanthong, coach Tom Bird, Anthony Knight and Jarid Walton were honored at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association award banquet in February in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Bird hopes a beefed-up schedule will help the Bengals take the final step to winning a national championship.

It is a routine practice in college athletics for higher-level athletic programs, especially in football and men’s basketball, to pay teams from smaller schools to go play them on their home turf.

But those writing the checks for Division I basketball guarantee games aren’t limited to the power conferences.

When America East men’s basketball stalwart University of Vermont had difficulty filling out its home schedule last year, it replied to an email from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, a small-college program in northernmost Aroostook County that competes in the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association.

The Fort Kent team ultimately traveled to Burlington, Vermont, on Nov. 22 and dropped a 90-54 decision in a game for which the Bengals received a reported guarantee of $3,000 to help offset expenses.

This season, Fort Kent will visit two NCAA Division I opponents — Liberty University of Lynchburg, Virginia, and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell — and also will play several additional guarantee games against NCAA Division II and NAIA opponents during a trip to Georgia and Florida funded by previous guarantee games such as the Vermont trip.

“We try to give our players the best experience they can have while playing here,” Fort Kent coach Tom Bird said. “Being where we are, we have to have competitive advantages and our travel and the schedule we produce are definitely one of the top advantages we have over teams in our state that are traveling primarily in Maine only.”

This season’s guarantee games will bring in approximately $11,000, according to Bird. That money will be used to fund a West Coast swing in November 2019 and games in Minnesota and North Dakota in December 2019.

“I know teams see our schedule and think we must have an exuberant amount of travel budget, but in reality we are being paid to play at eight games,” Bird said. “We need a hotel and food whether we are in Machias, Maine, or Orlando, Florida, so my goal every year is to fund out plane tickets through the guarantees and it’s worked out nicely over the last couple of years for us.”

The Bengals open their season Nov. 2 against Bryant and Stratton College-Rochester in Buffalo, New York.

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