Regents: If UAA skiing, hockey and gymnastics want to stay, they need to raise money

The Seawolf logo outside of the University of Alaska Anchorage Student Union.
The Seawolf logo outside of the University of Alaska Anchorage Student Union. Photographed on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

University regents voted Thursday to cut the hockey, gymnastics and downhill ski teams at the University of Alaska Anchorage next year to save money.

But there’s a big caveat: They say they’ll consider reversing that decision if the teams can raise enough money — specifically private funding — to cover two years of their operating expenses. They have until February.

The decision does not impact cross-country skiing at UAA. That team will stay.

University of Alaska Regent Dale Anderson said it’s now on the other programs to come up with a plan — and the cash.

We’ve given them the deadline, we’ve given them the amount and we’ve given them the time,” he said.

The regents’ decision caps nearly a month of uncertainty for UAA’s men’s hockey, women’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s ski teams. In the middle of August, UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen announced a proposal to eliminate the teams next year to save about $2.5 million annually.

Sandeen said UAA needs to shrink its budget because of repeated cuts to state funding. The university has already made many reductions elsewhere, she said, including recently eliminating degree programs.

In response to the initial proposal, the UAA teams and their supporters rallied to save the sports.

RELATED: UAA coaches, athletes fight to save skiing, hockey and gymnastics

That community feedback, at least in part, prompted Sandeen to present the new proposals approved by regents, and to spare cross-country skiing from elimination.

“We heard that Anchorage is becoming kind of a focal point for cross-country skiing,” Sandeen said.

“I think this shows that we are listening,” she said. 

Sandeen told regents that several other universities, including Stanford, have recently cut sports teams to deal with budget shortfalls.

“This trend will probably continue and, unfortunately, we’re not alone in looking at athletics as a means for our reductions,” she said.

Andy Teuber and Cachet Garrett were the only two regents, out of 11 total, who voted against the plan Thursday.

Garrett said the dollar amounts that teams have to raise don’t seem fair, because they don’t include cost-cutting measures the coaches have proposed. Teuber said asking the teams to cover two years of expenses seems like an “insurmountable threshold.”

Sandeen told regents that she hopes UAA will be in a better financial position in two years and could consider absorbing the costs of the sports again.

In interviews after the vote, UAA coaches said they’re thankful to have more time and grateful for the community support. But, they said, they also have a lot of questions for regents about raising the funds, like do in-kind donations count? And, there’s confusion about separating cross-country and downhill skiing.

UAA Gymnastics Coach Marie-Sophie Boggasch said the regents’ decision also just made her sad. She had hoped they’d give the team more time to come up with a plan instead of the ultimatum to find nearly $900,000 by February.

“I think that we’re probably going to be really upset as a team for the rest of today,” she said. “And then, you know, regrouping and kind of seeing how we, as a team, can approach it.”

For hockey, two years of expenses total $3 million dollars and for skiing it’s just over $600,000 dollars, according to the proposals approved by regents.

“That’s a ton of money,” said UAA Ski Coach Sparky Anderson.

UAA Hockey Coach Matt Curley described the fundraising goal as a “tall order.”

But all three coaches said they plan to try to make it work.

University officials said the teams need to have at least half of that money in cash by February and half in pledges.

Here’s the text of the three motions approved by regents Thursday: 

MOTION

“The Board of Regents approves discontinuation of women’s gymnastics at the University of Alaska Anchorage, effective June 30, 2021. The Board will consider reestablishing women’s gymnastics if supporters can provide private funding to cover two years of operating expenses ($888,000) by February 2021. This motion is effective September 10, 2020.”

MOTION

“The Board of Regents approves discontinuation of men’s hockey at the University of Alaska Anchorage, effective June 30, 2021. The board will consider reestablishing men’s hockey if supporters can provide private funding to cover two years of operating expenses ($3 million) by February 2021. This motion is effective September 10, 2020.”

MOTION

“The Board of Regents approves discontinuation of men’s and women’s alpine (downhill) skiing at the University of Alaska Anchorage, effective June 30, 2021.  The board will consider reestablishing men’s and women’s alpine (downhill) skiing if supporters can provide private funding to cover two years of operating expenses ($628,000) by February 2021. This action does not discontinue men’s or women’s nordic (cross country) skiing. This motion is effective September 10, 2020.”