A player for the University of Maine at Machias (left) competes for the ball with a University of Maine at Fort Kent player during a men's soccer game in 2016. UMaine-Machias on Tuesday announced that it has suspended its athletics programs indefinitely. (Jessica Potila | St. John Valley Times)

The University of Maine at Machias on Tuesday announced that it is suspending its intercollegiate athletics program for an indefinite period, effective immediately.

According to a press release, the move comes in response to budget issues that have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This decision was made after an in-depth review of the athletics program, during which we explored a number of options for reducing costs without suspending operations,” said head of campus Dan Qualls. “It became clear that, under the constraints of our current budget, and especially in light of the additional costs and safety concerns associated with the pandemic, we would not be able to provide the necessary facilities, equipment and resources for a safe and competitive environment for our student-athletes.”

The university said the suspension of athletics is only part of a more widespread move to reduce expenditures and reconfigure its operations on the campus.

UMM had offered seven varsity sports, including men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball. The school added men’s and women’s cross country last fall.

Clippers teams competed in the Yankee Small College Conference and have been affiliated with the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.

According to UMM, the suspension of its sports programs will affect two full-time employees, four temporary part-time coaches and 73 student-athletes, including 20 new recruits.

UMM athletics and fitness director Mike Belanger and Qualls have personally made those affected aware of the decision.

“The success of our student-athletes is our top priority during this difficult time,” Qualls said. “Though I appreciate the impact this action will have on these valued members of our community, it’s a necessary step to ensure the long-term viability of our institution and the continued success of all UMM students.”

For those student-athletes who wish to complete their studies at UMM, the university has committed to honoring scholarships through the 2023–2024 academic year. University staff also will provide advising and support for those students choosing to transfer to another institution.

In a letter from University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy, UMM athletics and fitness director Mike Belanger and Qualls, the leaders stressed that the move signals a chance in the direction of competitive sports offerings at the school.

“Beginning this fall, we will look at expanding our intramural offerings and possibly developing a club sport model, in accordance with all the latest state and federal health and safety protocols,” the letter read. “We’ll have the support of the University of Maine campus recreation staff, who have experience developing successful club sports programs.”

Belanger, who will continue in his role as fitness director, will form a committee this fall in partnership with the University of Maine Campus Recreation program to explore options for expanding nonvarsity sports offerings, including e-sports.

“This is a sad day for the Clipper family, especially for our student-athletes who work so hard to excel on the field, court, track, and in the classroom,” Belanger said.

“However, I remain excited about the future of UMM and am looking forward to developing intramural and club sports activities with the support of UMaine recreation staff. These programs have the potential to be more sustainable for our small campus, while still giving our students opportunities to enrich their college experience through athletic competition,” Belanger said.

This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. on July 21, 2020, to reflect that UMM offered seven varsity sports at the time of the decision to suspend the programs.

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...