Just so there’s no misunderstanding, I will repeat what I have said many times in the last week or so: the $110 million facilities renovation project at the University of Maine is absolutely amazing! It’s the most important and substantial thing to happen to the Black Bear athletic department in decades.
Still, with me you know there’s always a big “but” coming.
These upgrades are a major step toward improving the experience of the athletes, coaches and fans, and will result in more prosperous teams. But … if there really and truly were a “vision” for Black Bear greatness, it would involve investing this money to establish Portland as the new flagship campus and millennium home for UMaine athletics.
I know, you want to beat me to death with a Maine stein right now. But hear me out. If University of Maine athletics is ever going to be much more than a tiny blip on the national radar, the home base will have to be two hours south of here.
Look, I’m from here. I’ve spent most of my life in these parts. But If you can’t look around even with your hometown bias and see that Portland is a better fit for creating a true mid-major program, then you’re blinded by pine tree sap and blueberry juice.
Show me the money? It’s in southern Maine. More corporate and private dollars.
Because that’s where the people are. A half-million people live in Cumberland and York counties alone. Penobscot County has 151,000 people. The rest of the surrounding counties are some of the smallest, and poorest, in the state.
In Orono, you’re still asking kids to bus everywhere. In Portland, the bus trip is obviously not only two hours shorter, but with the potential economic benefits of being down there Maine would be able to afford more flights to places like Baltimore and Long Island.
Scheduling nonconference opponents to come to Maine would be easier as well.
Not to mention Orono is not the most happening college town in the country. It will remain a major uphill battle to recruit young men and women to Orono. Sure McDonald’s and Pat’s Pizza have appeal, but so does the Old Port and the Maine Mall area.
The $110 million upgrades, if paired with correct coaching hires and better compensation, will certainly bring more success to the Black Bears in Orono. We will see the positive results in the next five years or so I’m sure.
But to truly move the program to the next level, a change in scenery is really what’s needed.
Jeff Solari is the founder of the Maine Sports Chowdah, Maine’s only free, weekly sports email newsletter. He has been in sports media since he was 17 and is not shy with his opinions or perspective on the world of sports. The longtime sports broadcaster is a graduate of Mount Desert Island High School and the University of Southern Maine. Previous gigs included WLBZ-TV and WCSH-TV, host of “The Shootaround” talk radio show on WZON and stints with “Downtown” and “The Drive.” Solari has won more than 15 Maine Association of Broadcasters and AP broadcaster awards.