Maine Maritime had an NCAA Division III program for 74 years dating back to 1946 before its end in August 2020.
Todd Murphy of Maine Maritime Academy gets knocked into the air by Western New England College linebacker Joe Begnal (right) in the first half of a Sept. 19, 2009, game in Castine. Credit: Michael C. York / BDN

Maine Maritime Academy in Castine is officially restoring its football program.

After placing the program on indefinite suspension as a cost-saving measure by then-President William J. Brennan and the academy’s administration during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in August 2020, the college announced Monday that it will field sub-varsity teams in 2023 and 2024 to prepare for the first varsity season in 2025.

The Maine Maritime football team will join the Commonwealth Coast Conference, which includes Bangor’s Husson University and Biddeford-based the University of New England. The long-awaited first game with Husson will take place in 2025 as what many hope will be the start of a healthy rivalry between the two schools.

Maine Maritime had an NCAA Division III program for 74 years dating back to 1946 before it was placed on suspension. At the time, Brennan said the football program was the school’s most expensive non-academic program with a budget of $475,000.

Maine Maritime has an all-time record of 293-330-11. It went 42-18 from 2005-10, during which it won two of its 10 NEFC titles.

The program had lost 22 straight games under longtime head coach Chris McKenney before it was shut down.

New President Jerry Paul contacted Maine Maritime Athletic Director Steve Peed in April and asked him to draw up a plan to restore football.

The school needed to raise 75 percent of the start-up cost, which was $562.500, by Dec. 31.

It has received $566,778 in gifts so far, thanks to alumni, local businesses and a $250,000 matching grant courtesy of the Harold Alfond Foundation.

The athletic director is now seeking a head football coach and posted the position on Monday. He hopes to fill the position by mid-February.

Peed said he talked to a number of athletic directors and sought a conference to join and the commonwealth conference offered them an opportunity.

Maine Maritime had previously been in the New England Football Conference.

“I feel like we’re getting back to our roots,” Peed said. “It made a lot of sense to join the CCC because it gives us the opportunity to play Husson and UNE. You get the opportunity to sleep in your own bed before playing a road game.”

He said it will be the first time Maine Maritime will play an in-state team since the 1970s.

Peed said the Mariners and Husson Eagles were prepared to play a military appreciation game on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but it fell through because the program was axed.

“We’re excited for the chance to play Husson. It will be great for kids who played high school football together in eastern Maine. It will be a lot of fun,” said Peed, who added that it will be a special game for the region and will establish a rivalry between two schools just 36 miles apart.

Maine Maritime and Husson already compete together in the North Atlantic Conference in other sports.

Husson football coach Nat Clark and UNE’s Mike Lichten were happy about the news.

“We love football in the state of Maine and we believe MMA will add more excitement and opportunity,” Clark said.

“Having football return to Maine Maritime Academy is a great thing for the state of Maine and New England,” Lichten said. “MMA has a tradition of being a strong, disciplined program. We look forward to having them as a member of the CCC.”

Peed is elated about the development and said it was the culmination of a “great community effort” from all of the donors, including the Harold Alfond Foundation.

In addition to Husson and UNE, the other schools in the conference include Massachusetts-based programs Nichols, Curry, Endicott and Western New England.

Salve Regina from Rhode Island is scheduled to move to another conference in 2023.

“This is a wonderful day for the Commonwealth Coast Conference and Division III football in New England,” said conference commissioner Gregg Kaye. “The CCC is ecstatic to be the new football home for Maine Maritime Academy, an institution that played such an important role for the NEFC for more than half a century. “

Paul, Maine Maritime’s president, said by restarting the program, there will be “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to participate at the college level and be part of our next chapter of success while earning a world class degree leading to a high-paying career in a growing market.”

Harold Alfond Foundation chief executive officer and president Gregory Powell said the reinstatement of the football program will “enhance the number of Maine students who wish to earn a degree from Maine Maritime Academy while continuing to play football in college.”