S19uafhockey

The UAF hockey team celebrates its win against Bowling Green Friday night, Feb. 19 at the Carlson Center. Eric Engman/News-Miner

FAIRBANKS — The University of Alaska Fairbanks has 10 varsity athletic programs — the minimum needed for NCAA Division II status. 

According to information from the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, it can be four men’s and six women’s sports, or five men’s and five women’s sports.

However, with recent cuts by the Alaska Legislature for funding to the University of Alaska system because of economic issues in the state, there’s concern that UAF may have to eliminate a few sports.

If any of its programs are eliminated, UAF can apply for a waiver from the NCAA to maintain Division II status.

Tom Yelich, of the NCAA public and media relations department, said in a recent email to the News-Miner, “Generally speaking, a school may file a waiver in situations beyond their control if they are unable to meet the applicable membership criteria of their division ...”

The process involves a member school working with the NCAA staff to submit a waiver application to the Division II Membership Committee for review. Once all of the materials for the waiver application are collected, the Membership Committee reviews the application and renders a decision.

Any conditions, such as restrictions imposed by the committee, would be determined when the committee reviews the waiver request and makes a decision.

Yelich also said in the email that a school’s conference has the autonomy to impose their own conditions or restrictions as well.

Attempts Friday and Saturday to reach UAF athletics director Gary Gray for comments were unsuccessful, but in a cellphone interview on April 8, he mentioned the option of the university applying for a waiver if any sports were eliminated.

UAF, which competes as the Alaska Nanooks, is one of 11 members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, a Division II conference. The Nanooks have five GNAC sports — men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country.

UAF also is Division II in women’s swimming, which competes in the Pacific Swimming and Diving Conference, and Nordic skiing. However, the NCAA Championship meets for skiing combine Division I, II and III schools. 

The Nanooks compete at the Division I level for men’s hockey (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) and rifle (Patriot Rifle Conference).

On April 14, the legislative conference committee on the operating budget went with a $50-million cut that the House had proposed. The nearly 15-percent cut to the UA system’s budget reduced it to $300 million from $350 million, and it marked the third year of reductions for the system.

It’s not known how UAF athletics will be affected for the 2016-17 academic year,  but University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen recently estimated that 400 to 500 jobs in the UA system could be eliminated because of the current cut by the legislature.

There’s 22 campuses — including community colleges and satellite campuses — in the UA system, but only Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks have NCAA varsity athletics. UAA has 13 sports — 11 Division II programs and Division I teams in men’s hockey (WCHA) and women’s gymnastics.

Business is still going on in the UAF athletic department despite the budget concerns. Last week, for example, the Nanooks volleyball program announced the signings of four players to National Letters of Intent and the men’s basketball team announced its third recruit since the 2015-16 season ended in early March.

“There’s still speculation about what we think the budget might be,” Gray said in the April 8 interview, “but in a second way, we’re optimistic and we’re moving on. We’re recruiting, we’re bringing in student-athletes on official (campus) visits and the coaches are working hard every day.

“We’re focused on looking forward to next year,” he added.

 

A worst-case scenario example

Hockey is a marquee sport for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Its alumni include two NHL players this season — Buffalo Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson and defenseman Colton Parayko, who’s skating with the St. Louis Blues against the Chicago Blackhawks in a first-round NHL Stanley Cup playoff series that has its deciding Game 7 on Monday.

Nanooks hockey also is the anchor tenant of the Carlson Center, which opened in 1990 and features an Olympic-size ice sheet, 200 by 100 feet. If Nanooks hockey was eliminated because of budgets, the impact would be immeasurable, and not just for UAF.

Kristin Baysinger, Carlson Center general manager, said it would have a significant impact on the Carlson Center.

“It would require a lot of changes in order to accommodate that shift,” Baysinger said. “It would leave a significant area relatively unusual because it was designed specifically for the University of Alaska Fairbanks hockey team. It’s possible that things could be done, but it would require a lot of work and probably require a reduction in staff. The ice that is here is quite expensive to maintain, and UAF is the largest user of the ice sheet. If they’re (Nanooks) not here, it’s going to increase the maintenance cost and reduce the revenue.”

Baysinger said the Carlson Center generates about $200,000 to $300,000 in revenue each year from UAF hockey games played at the arena, which seats 4,545 for hockey.

The Nanooks played 16 games, including Western Collegiate Hockey Association contests, in the 2015-16 season at the Carlson Center.

Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:

@newsminersports.