University of Alaska seeks cuts to skiing and indoor track programs

The University of Alaska is recommending the elimination of 6 sports teams. Under the cost-saving proposal rolled out at an Anchorage press conference by UA President Jim Johnsen Thursday, the University of Alaska Fairbanks would lose its cross-country ski teams, and the University of Alaska Anchorage would drop its ski and indoor track squads. President Johnsen described it as a difficult day for the university.

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“Most difficult for the student athletes who are affected,” Johnsen said.

Johnsen said the proposed elimination of the ski and track programs will affect 95 athletes and save $1.2 million. Johnsen said the ski and track programs were targeted after considering several factors which he listed as, “the cost of the programs, the number of participants, the opportunities for fundraising, the opportunities for intra-state competition, Title IX, gender equity requirements and GNAC Conference requirements.”

Johnsen underscored that the decision to eliminate teams is the result of $50 million in state funding cuts since 2015. Sports are one of 23 university areas being considered for cost savings, but Johnsen said teams cannot be eliminated without NCAA approval.

Johnsen said he’d be, “asking the NCAA to allow us to reduce the number of teams at each of our universities to below the NCAA 10 team minimum rule.”

That would be a first for the NCAA, and UAF ski coach Nick Crawford said he’s holding out hope that his ski teams will be saved.

”Going through this waiver process and whatnot, I have a lot of confidence that the NCAA will uphold its values there as supporting many opportunities for student athletes regardless of whether you play a bigger sport like basket, hockey or football,” Crawford said.

If denied the waiver, the university will alternately request letting UAA and UAF combine their sports programs as a way of meeting the 10 team minimum. Even if the NCAA agrees to either proposal, President Johnsen stressed that the decision to eliminate the teams is ultimately up to the UA board regents. That could happen as early as next month. If approved, the ski and track programs would cease at the end of the school year, but student athletes who choose to stay at UAA or UAF would be offered an additional year of scholarships.