Will UMaine Athletics have to make big cuts because of COVID-19?

It’s not a newsflash that the COVID 19 pandemic is wreaking financial havoc on the people and businesses of this country and our state. The immediate hit has been devastating and unfortunately we haven’t yet begun to feel the long term effects. Athletic departments at small colleges and large universities alike are not immune. Take a look at the headlines from the past few days at ESPN.com

Cincinnati drops men’s soccer program amid “widespread uncertainty”

Old Dominion cuts wrestling, citing financial impact of coronavirus

Louisville furloughs 45 athletic department staffers, others take 4% pay cut

Boise State coaches, athletics staff to be furloughed

Texas Tech to trim $7 million from athletic budget

Akron to eliminate three sports in cost-cutting move

Bowling Green ends baseball program to save $500K

Furman eliminates baseball, men’s lacrosse

Central Michigan stops track amid coronavirus pandemic

East Carolina eliminates swimming and diving, tennis programs

I also just read a story where UConn might have to cut 1/4 of their programs.

Could similar headlines be coming out of Orono soon?

The University of Maine athletic department already runs on a razor thin budget. So it stands to reason a prolonged shutdown could be devastating to Black Bear sports.

So far Maine has been largely spared. There have been no cuts or furloughs. Yet.

Losing the non revenue spring sports season was not a big loss, although Maine did miss out on $150,000 in revenue resulting from the cancellation of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

But the administration knows they are potentially only at the dawn of the Corona crush.

The reality is, if you take the fans out of the equation in football, hockey and the two basketballs, we would have an excess of $1 million in lost revenue.” Said Ken Ralph in an interview with Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News in early May.

Ralph points out that Black Bear athletics has some things that help such as small coaches contracts and not much debt service.

But they also have many risk areas.

Our only D-1 school is located in a small town in a poor state. They also offer more varsity level programs than many comparable sized schools. Sports like baseball, football, and women’s ice hockey are rarely all offered at one institution as they are in Orono.

Advertising at UMaine sporting events is perhaps the most costly form of advertising in this market. Black Bear Sports Properties is sure to take a hit in revenue just like all other ad based local media including the Sports Chowdah.

We all have heard about the aging facilities at Maine and how the Black Bear coaches are already some of the lowest paid in the nation. Losing more revenue could be fatal to some jobs and maybe teams.

I spoke candidly with someone who has intimate knowledge of the inside operations at UMaine athletics. They feel that there will need to be creativity in handling this crisis. They point out things will need to be discussed that most of us have not yet considered because cutting programs is not easy. And Title IX is way more complicated than most of us understand.

They also correctly point out that Black Bear sports are part of the fabric of not only the university but our region as well. The loss of a program would be felt in the community for years to come.

However there’s no question that Women’s Ice Hockey and the Football program have a financial chokehold on the department. Could hockey be dumped in favor of a less expensive female sport such as golf? Or perhaps UMaine could bring back volleyball?

Could a program like football be furloughed for a year if fans aren’t allowed into games this fall? Would that program ever bounce back?

The Mid-American Conference announced eliminating post season conference tourneys for eight sports. Beginning with the 2020-21 academic year, conference champions will be determined based on regular-season league records, rather than postseason tournaments. Maybe that could save some money?

Preseason practices for fall sports are scheduled to begin in August. Big changes could be on the horizon before then. Changes that could take us all by surprise.

Jeff Solari

Jeff Solari

About Jeff Solari

Jeff Solari is the president and founder of the Sports Chowdah, Maine’s only free, weekly sports e mail newsletter. Recently, the Mount Desert Island native was the co-host of "The Drive" on 92.9 FM in Bangor.