The University of Alaska Anchorage will likely cut its men’s and women’s skiing and indoor track programs as early as next year.
University President Jim Johnsen and UAA athletic director Keith Hackett made the announcement Thursday at a joint press conference at the Alaska Airlines Center. It’s part of the ongoing effort since the Strategic Pathways process was established earlier this year to get leaner due to severe budget issues within the state.
Currently, UAA has 13 teams. It will petition the NCAA for a waiver to reduce that number to nine. Hackett’s directive is to drop the budget by $1.9 million — or 20 percent of the overall operating budget — for the fall 2017. If the NCAA denies the request, the number of teams would drop from 13 to 10 and another decision would have to be made on which team to bring back.
In keeping with Title IX guidelines, women’s indoor track would appear to have the inside track to remain, but the hope is for the NCAA to accept UAA’s request. In the meantime, Fairbanks will lose its men’s and women’s skiing programs as it drops from 10 to 8 teams.
Thursday represented a twist in the plot. The hastily called press conference that morning announcing the teams’ elimination was unexpected. Hockey and gymnastics were also on the chopping block, but appear to have survived this round.
However, Johnsen cautioned this could represent the beginning of more cuts.
“We hope that doesn’t happen, but that’s a political process that is beyond our control,” said Johnsen. “I certainly wouldn’t be willing to give a guarantee to anybody or any program frankly in the University system. These are tough times.”
Hackett echoed those sentiments. Four teams may go but other areas will also be affected within the athletic department, such as scholarships, the number of employees and the length of the work week.
“This is about a budget crisis in our state,” said Hackett. “And it’s something I never thought we’d be dealing with when I arrived here at little over three years ago.”
Given the timing of the announcement and the seasons, both skiing and track will compete this year, but this will be it.
The 77 affected athletes from UAA will be allowed to remain on scholarship through spring 2018 in Anchorage. Should they decide to continue competing elsewhere, the athletic department will assist them in finding them new homes, likely in the Lower 48.
Correction: An early version of this story inaccurately stated the number of affected athletes from UAA. The story has been amended.