The 15 athletic programs at the University of Maine had to trim their operating budgets by just under 6 percent this spring following cuts of the department’s appropriation from the university.

One year ago, an unprecedented budget crisis drove the athletic department to eliminate men’s soccer and volleyball to make up for an $8 million budget shortfall at the university.

The cut in athletics totaled $871,000.

This year’s reductions are nowhere near as vast or deep, but have called for creativity on the part of each team’s coaching staff.

“These are very challenging economic times,” said Athletic Director Blake James. “But the decisions we made last year, as disappointing as they were, put us in a position where we’re able to weather the storm right now.”

In the next several weeks, James will present the budget to the school administration for approval.

Women’s soccer, for example, is seeking out more guarantee games, and opponents who will return to Orono in exchange for a road game.

Guarantee games are games in which visiting teams receive appearance money.

“We need to be resourceful. We need to be creative,” said Coach Scott Atherley. “And really, you have to be a little more efficient. We basically have to look at all the avenues we can to make ends meet. That’s the reality of our times.”

Maine’s athletic programs have long had to stretch dollars.

Maine athletics had a total operating budget of $16 million in the 2008/2009 season, the most recent year available in a database compiled by USA Today that compares some 100 institutions nationwide.

Delaware, which Maine competes against in football, had in the same year, for example, an operating budget of $30 million. New Hampshire, which Maine competes against in every sport except baseball and softball, had a total operating budget of $25 million. Rhode Island weighed in at $24 million. Vermont’s budget was most comparable that year with $14.7 million.

Simply, Maine’s coaches are used to operating with shallow pockets.

“We’ve been thrifty for a long time,” said men’s basketball coach Ted Woodward. “Our budgets have always been tight and we certainly understand.”

This past year, for example, the men’s basketball team went on five nine-hour bus trips instead of flying to face opponents, and contributed a significant amount to the guarantee fund.

Woodward said he needs to consider the value of each recruiting trip, each piece of equipment the team looks to purchase, and juggle schedules to cluster games together and cut down on travel.

As a department, James said some positions that are vacant won’t be filled, and he expects ticket revenue for a couple of teams to increase next year, including men’s hockey.

The team made a late run in the Hockey East playoffs this season after losing in the first round in 2009 and not qualifying in 2008.

James said while the financial situation is nowhere near last year’s crisis, the department won’t be able to consider bringing back men’s soccer or volleyball.

“We’re nowhere near in a position to look at expanding our number of sport offerings,” he said. “I think you could talk to all of our coaches who could lay out needs. They really do a great job competing and being successful given what we have.”

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]