A confluence of financial troubles has claimed more athletics programs, as on Wednesday the University of Alaska Anchorage announced that it would seek to cut four sports: men’s hockey, women’s gymnastics, and men’s and women’s skiing.
In a release announcing the news, UAA cited not just COVID-19 as a reason for the decision, but also the state’s economic struggles and planned budget cuts.
"The decision to cut any UAA program, academic or athletic, is devastating,” UAA chancellor Cathy Sandeen said. “Since fiscal year 2014, state funding for UAA declined by $34 million, forcing leadership to make difficult decisions about which programs and services the university can sustain long term. That includes our sports programs. My heart goes out to our student-athletes and coaching staffs affected by this situation. This comes at a difficult time as they are already facing much uncertainty surrounding this year's season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud of the incredible resilience they have shown."
In all, 55 student-athletes are affected by the cuts, which, if approved by the Board of Regents in September, will go into effect for the 2021-22 season. The cuts are expected to save the university $2.5 million annually.
The Board of Regents last year directed the university to consolidate academic programs in an attempt to save money. The school and the state had previously negotiated a $70 million reduction in state funds over a period of three fiscal years spanning 2020, ‘21 and ‘22, per the release.
Even before the official announcement, there was some uncertainty surrounding the Seawolves’ hockey program. The WCHA, the conference the team competes in, faces an uncertain future, in part for having far flung membership that is difficult to travel between. In its announcement, the school said that despite that uncertainty, the school would have remained committed to the hockey program if it had the financial resources to do so.
“The funding required to operate a collegiate hockey program that provides a meaningful, positive experience for its student-athletes is no longer available,” the release said. “The same is true for gymnastics and skiing.”
The changes were announced Wednesday to allow for affected individuals (seven coaches and two staff positions will be eliminated when the cuts take effect) to plan for their future.
"This is not an outcome that any of us would choose if not confronted with the reality of our fiscal situation," UAA athletics director Greg Myford said. "Our student-athletes are continually recognized for the strength of their academic performance and the contributions they have made to this community through their many hours of volunteer work. Their tenacity is evident in athletic competition. They are winners. We are committed to doing all we can to help them make informed decisions about their best path forward."