Fans of the University of Maine football team have asked one question for the last couple of weeks: “Wouldn’t it be great if UMaine got a home playoff game?”
The answer is a resounding “no.”
The possibility does exist, as UMaine has submitted bids to potentially hold early-round NCAA Football Championship Subdivision games on Morse Field at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
And the 11th-ranked Black Bears (8-2 overall, 6-1 Colonial Athletic Association) should receive consideration, especially if they can cap the regular-season Saturday with a victory over traditional rival New Hampshire.
But who are we kidding?
As usual, fan support this season for the state’s only Division I football team has been lukewarm. Even with coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff having groomed this group of players into a CAA championship contender, the Bears are playing in front of crowds that don’t reflect an appreciation for the team’s accomplishments.
UMaine averaged 6,792 fans (tickets issues, not people in the seats) for its five home games this season. Most notable was the Nov. 5 contest against Towson, a battle of two programs in the top 13 nationally vying for the top spot in the CAA.
It was a little chilly, but otherwise not bad weather-wise. Only 5,258 spectators showed up to cheer on the Black Bears in what then was their biggest game in nearly three years.
Imagine the scene at the last two home games had the Bears been struggling, or if it had been very cold or rainy.
It’s not from a lack of publicity, marketing or advertising. UMaine gets the word out and the local media cover the overachieving Bears extensively.
The fact the games are shown on Local TV is also a problem, but that’s an issue for another day.
Mostly, it’s apathy: A lack of feeling or emotion, a lack of interest or concern, among the fans.
Why would the Black Bears want to play at home, so they are disheartened, if not embarrassed, to take the field in front of a small crowd?
UMaine would be better served to take its “business trip” mentality on the road to play at a venue where the opponent has a packed house, full of energy and emotion. The Bears certainly would have more incentive and be more excited to play in that kind of atmosphere than at Alfond Stadium.
Regardless of its record or ranking, UMaine is always the outpost underdog from northern New England, the team with a proverbial chip on its shoulder.
These guys feed off that dynamic much more so than being a favored front-runner that thrives on having the home-field advantage.
On the road, there are no distractions, only the structure of travel and practice, meals and meetings.
It’s a shame things aren’t different, because the players have done their part and a small nucleus of fans support the Bears faithfully.
In the end, UMaine is better off playing on the road in the playoffs. That experience will be more rewarding and memorable than playing in Orono.