Great Alaska Shootout survives history of ups, downs

From Tierra del Fuego to Alaska, talented athletes exist in all corners of the earth. Realizing the wellspring of athleticism at UAA deserved a spot on the national stage, then Chancellor John Lindauer appointed the young, ambitious coach Bob Rachal as athletic director and basketball coach in 1977.

Rachal coached the team for only one season, but he left an indelible mark on the University. His first act as head coach was to change the team name from the Sourdoughs to the Seawolves.

Formerly, the NCAA handbook had a rule that said games held outside of the Lower 48 weren’t counted in the season.

As a way to attract nationally ranked teams to Alaska, Rachal took advantage of this rule and conceived the SEA WOLF CLASSIC.

He was fired for recruiting violations before the first iteration was held in November 1978.

The North Carolina State Wolfpack came out on top, beating the Louisville Cardinals 72-66 to become the first Classic champion. Commentator Billy Packer coined the name Great Alaska Shootout the next year.

To diversify UAA athletic competition, the Northern Lights Invitational began for the women’s basketball program in 1980. That year, the Iowa Hawkeyes prevailed over the Seawolves 73-52.

Three years later, the Shootout moved from the Buckner Field House in Fort Richardson to the newly constructed Sullivan Arena. By this time, the event had lost $70,000 dollars in total.

Just a year later in 1984, the Shootout turned its first profit of $1,000 dollars. As popularity increased, former coach Bob Rachal’s health declined, culminating in his death from cancer in 1985.

Graphic by Casey Kleeb

But at the end of every life comes a birth. That same year, ESPN brought the Shootout to a national audience, cementing Alaska’s status as the go to state for preseason basketball.

But potential tragedy struck in 1992. The NCAA declared that games could not take place before the start of the season. Then athletic director Ron Petro along with Coach Harry Larrabee petitioned to the NCAA to make an exception for the Shootout.

Their petition succeeded and the annual event would continue.

Two years later in 1994, Carr Gottstein Food Inc. became the primary sponsor of the event. Again, the name was modified to, CARRS Great Alaska Shootout.

Due to a lack of funding, the Northern Lights Invitational was discontinued in 1998. It became a part of the Shootout in 1999 as the women’s tournament.

After Safeway’s purchase of Carrs, the name was again modified to the CARRS/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout.

Eight years later in 2007, due to ESPN’s rising prices and the event’s declining popularity, the network and the Shootout parted ways.

But this year, a new era is again on the horizon as athletic director Dr. Steve Cobb announced that a multi-year agreement had been reached with CBS Sports to air the Shootout nationally.

The talented athletes of UAA will once again take their deserved place on TV sets across the nation on November 20-24.

Tickets are on sale now at the Sullivan Arena Box office or online at http://www.goseawolves.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=13400&ATCLID=204960300.

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