The University of Maine football team went undefeated on Morse Field in Alfond Stadium a year ago en route to a 10-4 record, a Colonial Athletic Association championship and the first Football Championship Subdivision semifinal appearance in school history.
But while the players enjoy the support and atmosphere at home in Orono, it does not automatically mean they enjoy playing there.
Some Black Bears feel the FieldTurf playing surface is one of the worst in the conference.
“The other fields [in the CAA] are much softer, and it feels so much better on your feet, especially when you land on them,” UMaine senior defensive end Kayon Whitaker said.
This will mark the 12th season for the current FieldTurf surface. UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph said the shelf life of a FieldTurf surface is “eight to 15 years” depending upon factors such as usage, drainage and the underlay below the artificial turf.
Ralph said that in addition to football, the surface also is used heavily for club sports and intramurals.
“It is pretty rough, honestly,” junior quarterback Chris Ferguson said. “It’s pretty bad. This is its 12th year, and I don’t think the turf is supposed to last that long.”
The football players hope the university will replace the artificial turf soon.
“It would be a blessing,” junior linebacker Deshawn Stevens said.
The new artificial turf won’t come in time for this season, but Ralph said replacing the surface is high on the athletic department’s list of immediate needs.
“We have a master facilities plan that we’re putting together to roll out to the [UMaine Board of Trustees] later in the year,” he said. “We have a number of facilities that are past their prime that we need to address. We’re going to need funding to make that happen.”
Ralph estimated replacing the FieldTurf at Alfond Stadium would cost $650,000 to $1 million.
“We would all like to have new turf, but I know they’re working on it as a department, and I’m confident it will happen,” UMaine football head coach Nick Charlton said.
UMaine has hired JLG Architects of Grand Forks, North Dakota, to evaluate its athletic facilities and space, which will help in the development of a proposal for the Board of Trustees.
Ralph said it was important to hire a firm from a state with a climate similar to Maine.
“It is going to be a comprehensive 30-year plan. We’re going to have a strategy,” he said.
The university’s field hockey and softball facilities also need upgrades, as does the outdoor track.
“We need to go to a synthetic field for softball. They played their first 31 games on the road last spring,” Ralph said.
Lights would also be a valuable addition at the softball complex, he added.
UMaine’s women’s soccer team began playing games on Mahaney Diamond, the school’s baseball field, in 2014 and now play all of its home games there.
The old grass soccer field had poor drainage and most of the teams in America East have artificial turf, so head coach Scott Atherley embraced the move to Mahaney Diamond.
“But that’s not our long-term goal. We want [the soccer team] to have their own [artificial turf] field,” Ralph said.
Another long-term goal is to move the outdoor track, which goes around the football field, to another part of the property so the football field would be closer to the UMaine grandstand and visitors’ bleachers.
“It’s pretty obvious what our needs are, and we have to figure out our funding source and put the plan in place. We aren’t going to be able to do everything at the same time,” Ralph said.
Seth Woodcock, UMaine senior associate athletic director for development, said the athletic program needs quality facilities to compete with rival schools in recruiting.
“You can’t Band-Aid [the problems],” he said.
Ralph said there is university money available for projects such as sports facility upgrades, but those projects must compete against other on-campus needs “like repairing dormitories or paving parking lots.”
“There is no shortage of needs on campus,” he said. “They have to figure out where we fall in all of that.”