It seems a bit incongruous the University of Maine football team is on the verge of going where no Black Bear team has gone before.
A victory Saturday over third-ranked Georgia Southern at Statesboro would put coach Jack Cosgrove’s No. 13 Black Bears in the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinals.
That’s the FCS equivalent of the “Final Four,” the four best teams out of a field of 120 eligible for postseason play this season.
To offer a little perspective, if UMaine men’s ice hockey was to reach the “Frozen Four this season,” it would do so as one of only 58 teams in Division I.
Each of the last two years, Cosgrove has been asked whether UMaine could, or should, subject itself to the challenges that come with competing in the CAA.
Doubts about UMaine football’s future arose after Northeastern and Hofstra scuttled their football programs in 2009 and Rhode Island and Massachusetts later chose to join other leagues.
Some wondered whether UMaine should remain in the CAA, or even in the Football Championship Subdivision. Critics doubted whether the Black Bears could stay consistently competitive in the mighty CAA.
Ultimately, it was more a question of whether the CAA wants UMaine in the equation for the long term and whether UMaine can afford to meet the high cost of charter flights to most CAA road games.
The 2011 UMaine football team has demonstrated that not only should UMaine remain a fully-funded (63 scholarship equivalencies) FCS program, it should stay in the CAA.
Playing in the CAA, as opposed to the Northeast Conference of which Rhode Island will become a member in 2013, puts the UMaine name in the national FCS football conversation.
Week in and week out, the Bears play a grueling schedule against a handful of perennial title contenders, including border rival New Hampshire. The CAA ties UMaine to programs down through the Mid-Atlantic region all the way to Georgia (Georgia State will be the next team to join the league).
The University of Maine can’t afford to pay for that kind of exposure, which puts the name out there while attaching it to the country’s premier FCS football conference.
It also helps make UMaine more attractive to prospective student-athletes up and down the eastern seaboard.
The future of UMaine football and its conference affiliation will come down to finances. In order for the Bears to fund charter trips, they may have to become more aggressive and creative with fundraising efforts.
It would be worth it.
UMaine is three wins away from winning a national championship. And while the Black Bears will be the underdogs the rest of the way, this team has already reinforced the notion UMaine football is properly positioned for success for the forseeable future.