UAA proposes cutting hockey, gymnastics and skiing

The University of Alaska Anchorage sign on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (Tegan Hanlon / Alaska Public Media)

Leaders at the University of Alaska Anchorage are proposing to cut four popular sports teams to save money: men’s hockey, women’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s skiing.

UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen announced the plan Wednesday. She said it’s in response to significant cuts to state funding. It’s a difficult decision, she said, but UAA has already reduced costs in many other areas.

“We’ve cut facilities. We’ve cut administration dramatically,” Sandeen said. “Last year, we went through the process of reducing our academic programs.”

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The University of Alaska Board of Regents still needs to approve the athletic cuts. It’s expected to consider the proposal in September.

Director of Athletics Greg Myford said the teams would be eliminated next school year, and the move would save the university about $2.5 million annually.

“This is a financial decision that came without many options at all,” he said.

UAA is bracing for a $7.2 million cut to its state funding next year — the final year of an agreement reached between Gov. Mike Dunleavy and UA leaders. They agreed to a $70 million state funding cut for the university system spread over three years.

Elected officials want the university to shrink, Sandeen said.

“This is just another example of what it looks like when you have a smaller university,” she said.

The sport teams up for elimination currently have a total of about 70 student athletes, seven coaches and two staff members.

The cuts would leave UAA with nine sports teams — one less than the NCAA requires. Sandeen said the university would apply for a waiver from that requirement, and eventually look into adding another team that is less costly.

“Men’s hockey is one of our most expensive sports and we know that we can ID a men’s team sport that will be less expensive,” Sandeen said. “As Greg said, this is a financial decision, unfortunately.”

UAA Ski Coach Sparky Anderson described the proposed cuts as surprising and “extremely disappointing.”

He said it feels like déjà vu: The ski teams were on the chopping block just a few years ago because of budget cuts. Then, the teams rallied support. And the university kept the programs.

“We’ve got a good template. We know how to fight this fight and we’re going to get back in the ring and start throwing haymakers again,” Anderson said.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks said it has no plans to eliminate any of its sports teams.

UAA is taking public comment on its proposed cuts during a virtual town hall meeting on Aug. 26 and the regents will take comment on Aug. 31. UAA says feedback can also be sent to uaa_feedback@alaska.edu.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.

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