Johnsen recommends UA not cut teams, for now
Updated at 10:10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10
The University of Alaska (UA) will not move forward with plans to cut athletics teams at this time, according to a statement from President Jim Johnsen.
The statement, released Thursday morning, said the decision stems from the NCAA’s response to a waiver submitted by UA last month. To remain at the Division II status, the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) would need to maintain at least 10 teams. The petition to the NCAA was to drop from 13 teams to nine.
The NCAA has neither denied nor approved the University’s request, Johnsen said, which signals the association will only consider the waiver after the number of teams is below the minimum of 10 teams.
“As a result of this nonresponse from the NCAA, I will recommend to the Board of Regents that we not reduce teams at this time,” Johnsen stated, adding that he also suggests not pursuing the consortium option proposed early on.
Earlier this year, a wide range of options were presented in the Strategic Pathways report: from eliminating everything, to a consortium between UAA and University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) — two schools 350 miles apart — or making cuts.
On Oct. 27, UAA athletic director Keith Hackett and Johnsen appeared at a joint press conference concerning the Strategic Pathways process. At that time, it was recommended that the men’s and women’s skiing as well as indoor track and field programs be eliminated after 2016-17.
Ski coach Sparky Anderson said cutting his teams, “would do more harm than good and makes the University a less attractive option for local kids.”
Michael Friess, now in his 27th year guiding running programs which have consistently been nationally competitive and produced numerous All-Americans, called the waiver the University was pursuing unprecedented.
“We’ve cut as much as we can cut without having to go to a body with our hands and saying ‘Give us a break,'” he said.
In lieu of cuts or consolidation, Johnsen said in his statement that UA should use the recently garnered support for the teams on the chopping block.
“It is clear that the ski community strongly supports the programs at UAA and UAF. Of course, much depends on our future budget,” he said.
Johnsen said the University should reach out to these supporters and “invite and encourage” them to financially support the athletics programs.
Anchorage athletic director Hackett announced the decision to Seawolf fans in an email Thursday, where he thanked them for expressing their opinions about the cuts.
“There is much work to be done in solving our financial budget challenges, but I am confident that working together we can find our way through this,” he wrote.
At a rally Thursday evening, UAA skiing’s head coach, Sparky Anderson, said he and his team were very excited by the news.
“Obviously, a lot of joy all around,” Anderson said. “The team this morning we were high fiving and hugging in the gym. The kids were in there working just as hard as they always do and we’re off to a camp tomorrow, so this is great timing.”
Requests for comment from UAF were not immediately returned.
Many NCAA Division I programs have also been forced to make cuts. Temple University in Philadelphia dropped from 24 to 17 teams in the last two years. Among the programs to go: men’s baseball, women’s softball, and the men’s indoor and outdoor track and field.
KTVA’s Dave Goldman contributed to this report.