News-Miner opinion: Sports programs don’t make a university. Nevertheless, the loss of four sports next year at the University of Alaska Anchorage, including the Seawolves’ Division I men’s hockey program, surely stings. The UA Board of Regents made the recommendation by UAA final on Thursday.
We don’t want to see a similar fate for the University of Alaska Fairbanks sports programs. The Nanooks have several well-regarded programs, including a Division I hockey team and a co-ed rifle squad that has 10 national championship team titles. There’s also men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross-country running, men’s and women’s skiing, women’s volleyball and women’s swimming.
We want them to stick around.
It’s no secret that the University of Alaska system has taken a heavy financial hit in recent years, and more cutting will be coming under a three-year defunding agreement reached last year by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the UA Board of Regents. That agreement forestalled what would have been a steeper cut demanded by the governor.
What the future holds beyond that three-year agreement, no one knows. And that’s especially the case in general for university sports programs, which are oftentimes looked at as initial places of cutting.
UAF Chancellor Dan White, in a message to the UAF community shortly after UAA announced its proposal to discontinue some sports, said UAF has no plans to reduce the number of its athletics programs.
But how to maintain them in an era of continually declining state funds?
Finding more money elsewhere, of course.
UAF has embarked on a two-prong effort to achieve that.
Last month it hired UAF alum and longtime Fairbanks resident Judy Dellinger to serve as development officer for intercollegiate athletics. Her task, as spelled out in the announcement of her hiring: “...work closely with the UAF Department of Athletics, the UAF Alumni Association and other key stakeholders to increase philanthropy for each of Alaska’s 10 varsity sports.”
Nine days later, UAF announced the creation of its fundraising Sru’ol Campaign (pronounced “shrew-olth,” the Lower Tanana Dene Athabascan word for “sport” or “game”). The goal of this campaign is to raise private sector money — $1 million to $1.5 million in the next year — to help pay for various aspects of operating the 10 sports programs, such as scholarships, classroom materials, housing, recruiting, game travel, equipment, facilities improvements and so on.
UAF Vice Chancellor Keith Champagne, who oversees the student affairs and athletics, said in a Daily News-Miner story Friday that the two developments — the hiring of Ms. Dellinger and the creation of the fundraising campaign — have created some new buzz about Nanook athletics.
“People were just excited because Chancellor White has always maintained his commitment to Nanook athletics, and with Judy coming aboard and now a fundraising component, it becomes a demonstrated commitment,” he said. “People can see his commitment and see our approach to bringing in external revenue.”
Of the hockey team in particular, Mr. Champagne noted the level of support that already exists for what he called “an iconic hockey brand.”
Sports programs indeed aren’t what a university should be about, but they do add an important part to the university experience and to the life of the community in which the university sits. That’s certainly the case here in Fairbanks.
It’s unfortunate that UAA will be losing some sports, but it’s great to hear that UAF is committed to retaining its 10 sports programs and that strong steps have been taken to back up that commitment.