By: Greg Levinsky
Ever been to Orono, Maine?
Yeah, didn’t think so.
How about Portland? The beautiful city a mere 120-minute drive north of Boston. The vacation destination. A place where people want to be.
It is with unabashed determination that I insist the University of Maine needs to move their athletics to the Portland and Gorham campuses of the state-owned University of Southern Maine. Growing up in Portland, I never knew where the University of Maine’s flagship campus was. I’ve never felt an allegiance to its athletic teams. Rather, I’ve felt a disconnect.
Orono has always felt like some mythical land. It’s far away. There is little allegiance to the athletic teams of the state’s flagship university, especially in Southern Maine.
I am a third generation Mainer, and as the son of a rabid local sports fan I’ve been to the University of Maine just once. From personal experience, no one from my area cares about the teams. Look at state schools around the country and there is a more passionate fanbase nearly everywhere. State schools and supporting of their teams can be a uniting tenet of a population.
In Maine, it’s hardly a source of pride.
As the only Division I program Maine, it’s time the Black Bears move southward.
First, let’s think logistically. Orono is nearly 140 miles north of Portland. Boston is 100 miles south of Portland. Residents of the greater Portland area, which maintains 40 percent of the state’s population, are more likely to travel to Boston for a professional sports game than they are to go a further distance north to check out one of the country’s least successful athletics programs.
According to USA Today, the University of Maine athletics expenses are higher than the department’s revenue. Not ideal.
The easiest marker of success, finances, demonstrates something isn’t working. Another important aspect of college athletics is recruiting student-athletes.
Playing in the America East Conference, Maine’s closest rival geographically is the University of New Hampshire. On a good day, the closest conference game is a three hour bus ride away. A move to Portland would slash that time to just one hour.
Fans in Portland would likely be more willing to travel to road games than those in Orono. The teams would likely be more well supported.
A perfect example of the embarrassment of the athletic program is the men’s basketball team. Put quite simply, no one stays for the entirety of their collegiate eligibility.
The transfer list is rather impressive. In recent memory Maine has lost Aaron Calixte (Oklahoma), Justin Edwards (Kansas State), Wes Myers (South Carolina), Isaac Vann (VCU), and Devine Eke (Rider). You could make an NCAA Tournament caliber team out of these players. Certainly they’d be a top-tier squad in the America East.
Even back in 1981 Rick Carlisle transferred from Maine to Virginia and went onto an NBA career.
In a recent study of the America East men’s basketball programs by Jeff Goodman, Maine ranked among the bottom two in the league in terms of history/tradition, media exposure, game atmosphere, budget/resources and recruiting base.
Can you really blame student-athletes for not considering the school?
It’s not just in basketball. After Josh Mack set the FCS ablaze in 2016 earning a Freshman All-American Honorable Mention, he departed for Liberty.
Yes, Liberty. Now I have no qualms with Lynchburg, Virginia. However, I do contend that Portland is likely just as exciting of a place. It’s certainly not locale that serves as a deterrent for student-athletes.
Nothing seems to be going right.
Moving to Portland and Gorham, which is seven miles away from Portland, could solve a lot of issues. Southern Maine is a hub. It’s a jovial place with a youthful vibe. The land is owned and the facilities are built, but the Division I teams are nowhere to be found.
It’s time, UMaine. You’re missing out.
Greg Levinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @GregLevinsky