In this 2019 photo, the University of Maine women’s basketball team takes the court for practice at The Pit at Memorial Gym on campus in Orono. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The University of Maine’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will finally get to play games at home.

And it will be a familiar court as well.

UMaine officials announced Tuesday that the Black Bears will play their home games at Memorial Gym, otherwise known as The Pit, on campus in Orono. No fans or media will be allowed, just essential game personnel, as UMaine must comply with the state’s 50-person indoor gathering limit.

The first home games will be a men’s basketball series against New Hampshire Jan. 2-3. The women’s team will play at home on Jan. 9-10 against the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The men’s game against New Hampshire on Jan. 2 will be the first home contest for any sport in Orono since March 8 when the women’s team defeated UMass-Lowell 67-54 in the America East semifinals.

“UMaine athletics has worked closely with our conference partners and university leaders to comply with state health guidance to develop a plan for hosting basketball games that adheres to public health and gathering size limitations,” said UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy in an emailed statement. “It has been a collaborative effort and we are pleased to be returning Division I competition to campus. ”

Players on the court do not have to wear masks; players and coaches on the sideline do.

The basketball teams have played most of their home games at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor since the 2013-14 season, with an occasional home game at The Pit. In fact, the women’s basketball team has held an America East playoff game at Memorial Gym in each of the last two years because of scheduling conflicts with the CIC.

“We’ve said it before and we truly mean it, if we have to play every game on the road we would and we will,” said Amy Vachon, UMaine women’s basketball coach. “It gets tiring. Being on the road a lot is tough. And it’s not like these are short road trips. It’s nice to have the opportunity we have in front of us to be able to host games. It’s nice to be able to sleep in your own bed, be in your own locker room.”

The women’s team is off to a 5-0 start – its best start since 1986. The men’s team is 0-3.

Maine will be the last America East school to hold a home basketball game. Every other member has played at least two home games.

And the Black Bears are doing everything they can to make these safe events.

“The safety protocols are really extensive,” said UMaine Athletic Director Ken Ralph. “You’re got to remember there are multiple protocols we have to follow. We have to follow NCAA protocols, we have to follow America East protocols, we have to follow our state and campus protocols. There’s a whole intertwining mesh. And we always have to go to the most strict measure on each. So these build upon each other and create a more and more strict environment on which to meet your safety mandates.”

Each team will be limited to 20 individuals on the bench, which means some team members may not be on the bench. Other individuals allowed inside include the three game officials, four officials working the scorer’s table, two cameramen – three other cameras will be operated remotely to allow the game to be live-streamed – and one game administration individual.

“Everybody on the floor has been tested and has been tested repeatedly,” said Ralph, noting that the team members are tested for the five days leading into the contest. “You’re going to be dealing with cleaning protocols that are extensive. You’re going to be dealing with spacing protocols that are different than anything you’ve seen and beyond the minimums required. We are going to do everything we can to ensure the kids have a quality Division I experience but we’re also doing everything we can to create the safest environment possible.”

UMaine officials will be setting up socially-distanced seating in the adjacent field house for other people to view the game on monitors.

School officials had originally asked state officials for a waiver on the 50-person indoor gathering limit, noting in a Nov. 17 letter to Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Maine Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson that it would require 70 people to put on a home basketball game. Ferrini-Mundy amended that number to 50 in a Dec. 8 letter.

Ralph said moving some of the game operations staff to the field house and using three remote cameras helped get the number down to 50.

“Honestly you do,” said Ralph, when asked if you needed 70 people to put on the game. “But we’re going to do it with 50 because that’s what allowed.”

Maine is the only America East school that has to deal with an indoor gathering limit. But other schools have similar protocols for home games. At New Hampshire, for example, games are played without fans or media, except for team media. The school hires one photographer for each team.

“There are still very few people in the building,” said Mike Murphy, the UNH associate athletic director for communications.

Ralph added the UMaine officials reached out to America East to make sure the 50-person limit wasn’t an issue.

“Most of our schools currently have travel parties of 18 to 22 individuals,” said Matt Bourque, the America East senior associate commissioner for broadcast media and partnerships. “We are comfortable with Maine’s plan to accommodate any individuals in the travel party above 20 in the field house area where they will be distanced and able to watch the game via the ESPN video stream.”

While the basketball teams will be able to have home games, it is unlikely the hockey teams will. School officials have said it will take a minimum of 98 individuals to hold a home game at Alfond Arena.

The men’s weekend series, originally scheduled for Orono, has already been moved to the road, where Maine will play at UMass-Lowell.

“Unless there a change in the guidance, I don’t see a way for us to be able to play a home hockey game,” said Ralph.

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