There are no plans to cut any of the University of Maine’s 17 Division I sports programs despite the financial hardship caused by COVID-19, UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph said.
Nineteen Division I schools had eliminated 57 programs — with Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, eliminating 11 — following the 2020-21 season, according to a story in insider.com last month.
One of the Stanford teams, field hockey, is in the same conference as UMaine, America East. Stanford has won three of the last four America East tournament championships.
“We have never discussed eliminating any sports programs. It is not something that has been on the table,” Ralph said. “We’re really trying to focus on not eliminating things that have a direct impact on the quality of student experience we offer.”
However, he did acknowledge that UMaine is “actively reworking our budget because we will have a reduction in revenues.”
That reduction in revenues includes $680,000 in guarantees from football games at Football Bowl Subdivision schools Ball State in Indiana ($400,000) and the University of Connecticut ($280,000).
UMaine is in the Football Championship Subdivision, which offers 22 fewer football scholarships than the FBS schools. FCS teams can offer 63 full scholarships compared to 85 at the FBS level.
Member institutions must offer 14 varsity sports programs to meet NCAA Division I standards.
The fall sports teams at UMaine — football, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey and women’s soccer — have had their seasons pushed back until the spring.
Football attracted 31,891 fans to its five home football games a year ago for an average of 6,378 per game. Based on an average of $10 per ticket, that adds up to $318,910 in revenue not including concessions and souvenirs.
Virtually all of that would have been lost, although Gov. Janet Mills has allowed as many as 200 people to attend an outdoor event after easing her previous pandemic sanctions on attendance.
Mills has asked that state department heads cut 10 percent off their budgets.
UMaine’s athletic budget is approximately $19 million.
Ralph said the impact of the state budget cuts on the athletic program wouldn’t be known until the UMaine system decides on the allocation of the cut.
He said the athletic program will save money on travel since UMaine’s Colonial Athletic Association road trips this fall would have been to Richmond (Virginia), the University of Rhode Island, Stony Brook (Long Island, New York) and James Madison (Virginia).
If there is a spring football schedule, it may involve a more regionalized schedule to reduce travel.
The other fall sports teams also have extensive travel schedules with the University of New Hampshire being the closest league rival.
It is 198 miles one way from Durham, New Hampshire, to Orono.
“It will be a significant savings for us,” Ralph said.
There would also be an increase in the number of buses necessary for travel due to social distancing guidelines.
Ralph said they haven’t cut any staff members or furloughed anyone.
“But we have some positions like in ticket sales and marketing that haven’t been filled and will be left open at least through the new year,” he said. “We have also had some low-level savings in scholarships.”
Another significant savings has occurred in recruiting since coaches are doing most of it online. Potential student-athlete visits to the campus have gone virtual.
“All of it adds up to quite a bit of money [being saved]. The coaches have had to learn to recruit via Zoom and some have been getting quite good at it,” Ralph said.
Despite all of the budget issues caused by the pandemic, Ralph said they are still trying to raise money to improve their facilities.
“We have to stay aggressive on that and a number of folks have stepped forward and will be good partners down the road,” he said. “It’s a great time to be aggressive on this. People are looking forward to supporting us.”
But everything takes a back seat to student safety.
“We have to make sure all of our students can come back to school safely,” he stressed.