BANGOR, Maine — There will be no varsity sports at Eastern Maine Community College during the next academic year.

EMCC President Larry Barrett on Monday sent a letter to employees explaining that he is suspending all of the college’s athletic programs for 2015-16.

“An evaluation of costs associated with the program including travel, salaries, supplies and facility upgrades in conjunction with the current unknowns of our budget for the upcoming academic year made this decision necessary,” Barrett said in the letter.

“As a big advocate of athletics on campus, this decision was not an easy one and one that I struggled with for the past few weeks,” he added.

According to Kent Corey, EMCC’s director of athletics and recreation and a residential director on campus, the school’s athletic budget for this year is about $160,000. He stressed that while the hiatus will create a temporary financial savings for EMCC, the emphasis is on evaluating how to structure athletic programs to keep student-athletes engaged and help them successfully balance academics and athletics in the long term.

Barrett said EMCC plans to study athletics in the hope of putting teams back on the fields and courts at the end of next year.

“We are in the process of bringing together some internal campus individuals and others from the community to develop a plan of action to re-introduce and compete in athletics for the 2016-2017 academic year,” said Barrett, who added EMCC will explore the possibility of integrating a health and wellness center as part of the Johnston Gym complex on the Bangor campus.

Head women’s basketball coach Fred Ashmore of Ellsworth, who previously served on the men’s staff, was outspoken Thursday in his criticism of the EMCC administration for eliminating the basketball programs.

Based on his discussions with school officials, who last year indicated they were evaluating the basketball programs, “There was a slim chance that we were going to lose the program,” said Ashmore, who was given the impression the suspension of other teams would enable basketball to remain viable.

He said the basketball programs took extensive measures to cut costs, including placing three or four student-athletes in hotel rooms on road trips and consolidating meal money.

“We made concessions throughout the year knowing it was an evaluation year, but we weren’t brought in and briefed in any fashion on how we could fix anything,” Ashmore said. “That’s why it was such a big shock to the basketball programs.”

EMCC sponsors 11 varsity teams: Men’s baseball, basketball, cross-country, soccer and wrestling; women’s basketball, cross-country, soccer and softball; and coed golf and 10-pin bowling.

The school had only 68 students participate in athletics during 2014-15 and is not fielding teams during the spring season.

Corey said officials have been scrutinizing athletics since last year. A lack of interest among prospective athletes and attrition among those who signed up for teams last fall led to not fielding women’s soccer or golf teams and having to halt competition in men’s soccer and softball.

Baseball also did not have sufficient participation to carry over into the spring portion of its season.

“Athletics, extracurricular activities, are very important to us, but we really thought it was critical to take the next year to take a step back and evaluate how we can engage students better in athletics, where we need to spend time and resources,” said EMCC Director of Public Relations Matt McLaughlin.

“It’s not so much of a budget concern as much as it is … how do we take a more holistic approach of making sure the resources we’re putting into the campus are something more people are taking advantage of,” he added.

EMCC did sponsor men’s and women’s basketball squads last winter.

In addition to the student-athletes, EMCC’s coaches also are left on the sidelines. All are part-time contract employees of the college, and Corey said they have “day” jobs on which they rely for their primary income.

Part of the continuing challenge for EMCC athletics is dealing with the transitory nature of its students. McLaughlin said that among the college’s more than 4,000 students, most are enrolled for only one or two years in associate degree or certification programs.

Ashmore said some EMCC student-athletes and other students have begun a petition drive to protest the decision to cut all sports and plan to present it to Barrett in the near future.

Corey said EMCC will retain its membership in the Yankee Small College Conference and the United States Collegiate Athletic Association to help facilitate a smooth return to competition during the fall of 2016.

However, Ashmore is worried about the future of EMCC athletics.

“They’re talking about taking a year off, but I don’t think they’re really planning on bringing athletics back,” he said, pointing to EMCC’s extensive needs in terms of upgrading its athletic facilities.

The YSCC includes Maine schools Central Maine Community College of Auburn, Northern Maine Community College of Presque Isle, Southern Maine Community College of South Portland, Unity College, the University of Maine at Augusta and the University of Maine at Machias. Other members are Great Bay Community College of Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Hampshire College of Amherst, Massachusetts; Paul Smith’s College of Paul Smiths, New York; the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, Vermont; Vermont Technical College in Brattleboro and some University of New Hampshire club teams.

The YSCC is a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, a national governing body that provides national championship competition, statistical and recognition for student-athletes. The USCAA sponsors men’s and women’s basketball at two levels, along with men’s and women’s soccer and cross-country, baseball, softball and men’s golf.

The USCAA caters to small colleges, those that are not affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association or the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

Barrett said EMCC would assist students who wish to pursue athletics at another school in finding them another place to study and play.

In the meantime, EMCC will continue to offer intramural sports and other recreational and wellness activities for its students. Those areas, too, are being evaluated as the college seeks to balance its extracurricular offerings.

Disclosure: EMCC Director of Public Relations Matt McLaughlin is the son of BDN sports editor Joe McLaughlin.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...