The University of Maine's men's program became the first Division I soccer program to get the ax in response to cutbacks necessitated by the economic woes that have befallen state universities. This was no Title IX move. Women's volleyball also was dropped, resulting in a projected savings of $600,000 from dropping the two programs in the next fiscal year. It's a decision that will have a devastating impact on soccer in Maine. It leaves Maine without a D1 program at a time when boys soccer, always popular at the schoolboy level, has taken off at the club level.
The UMaine athletic department's share of $8.8 million in cuts is $253,000, while economy-related factors -- endowment losses, reduced annual gifts, declines in ticket sales, and lower-than-expected merchandise receipts and other externally generated revenues -- will create shortfalls totaling another $618,000.
"This is the option of last resort," says Athletic Director Blake James. "We place a high value on the opportunities that all of our sports create for our student-athletes and we recognize the commitment of coaches, support staff and fans. We have taken these steps after exhausting every feasible option for managing these unprecedented budget challenges."
UMaine will honor its scholarship commitments to current volleyball and soccer players who wish to continue work toward a UMaine degree. Recruited scholarship student-athletes who have signed a National Letter of Intent to play one of these sports will be eligible for one year of scholarship funding if they choose to attend UMaine.
According to the Portland Press Herald, UMaine men's soccer had an annual operating budget of $144,000 for coaches' salaries, travel and operational costs but not scholarships. The Black Bears had 7.5 scholarships for men's soccer. (The women's soccer operating budget is at least 50 percent bigger.)
Falmouth High coach Dave Halligan, whose son Pat played for the Black Bears, took the news hard.
"What do you tell a young player in Maine now? 'Hey, go somewhere else? We can't afford you?' " Halligan told the Portland Press Herald. "There's probably more soccer players in Maine than any other sport. That's our flagship university, the only Division I school in the state."
No UMaine program has been cut since men's golf was dropped in 2001, though men's soccer was one of three programs that was in danger of being dropped in 2002.
Maine plays in the America East, where Vermont has announced plans to eliminate baseball and softball and conference scald back the baseball season.