College hockey in the state of Alaska faces unprecedented uncertainty, with budget cuts and conference realignment threatening the future of the sport at Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks.
College Hockey News reports that the state of Alaska, facing shortfalls, has slashed state spending by a total of $444 million. That figure includes $134 million in cuts from the University of Alaska System. CHN reports that the cut represents a precipitous 41 percent drop for the system’s general fund.
Governor Mike Dunleavy used the line-item veto to trim the state’s budgets, and lawmakers in the state legislature were unable to override them.
The cuts, coupled with the news that most of the schools in the WCHA have opted to depart the conference leaving both Alaska programs and Alabama-Huntsville to fend for themselves, places hockey in a precarious position.
How the schools handle the cuts will be determined at the next board of regents meeting, slated for July 30. WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said that while he’s confident that both Alaska schools will be able to compete next year, the league “will be prepared for any contingency should the current budget situation directly impact either program.”
Regents reportedly postponed a vote on how they plan to move forward with the proposed cuts, hoping that the state legislature would be able to restore some funds. The cuts are so steep that even slashing the entire athletic department budget wouldn’t be enough.
If next semester proceeds as planned, the university system is expected to run out of money by February — right in the middle of hockey season. The longer the system carries on without acting, the more severe the cuts will need to be to make up the difference.
Meanwhile, seven of the 10 WCHA members are set to form a new conference — without the Alaska programs — in 2021.