Interim Chancellor Samuel Gingerich announced on Aug. 24 that the annual GCI Great Alaska Shootout will take place for the last time in 2017 and end the tournament’s streak of longest-running regular-season college basketball tournament in U.S. history.
The tournament first introduced Alaskans to Division I basketball in 1978 as the Sea Wolf Classic on Fort Richardson Army Base (now JBER). It was later named the Great Alaska Shootout in 1979 and moved to the Sullivan Arena in 1983. In the center of Anchorage, it established popularity as a staple event during the Thanksgiving festivities. The University started hosting the tournament at its own venue, the Alaska Airlines Center, in 2014.
Throughout its history, the Great Alaska Shootout introduced college basketball fans to an electric atmosphere. The Seawolves Division II men’s basketball team took on elite Division I teams such as Duke University, University of Kentucky, North Carolina State University, UCLA, University of Louisville and other national contenders over the years. The Seawolves’ women’s basketball team joined the tournament in 1999, and faced off with the University of Texas at Austin, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University and the University of Southern California.
Both teams received support by their home crowds, which were rooting for an upset of visiting teams. The high attendance rates replicated the state’s immense support of the tournament and college basketball. Between 1995-2007, more than 46,000 people attended the four-day tournament each year with a record crowd of 60,150 in 2007.
Over the years, the Shootout has hosted 30 men’s teams that moved on to win a national title. It also featured 296 future NBA players, 39 NBA champions, 25 NBA All-Stars and six Olympic gold medalists.
Over the last several years, attendance rates have declined as recruiting high class Division I teams has become more challenging. A loosened NCAA rule allowed all institutions to host preseason tournaments and not just teams in geographically disadvantaged areas. Beginning with the 2006-07 campaign, the Shootout was forced to compete with 43 other tournaments around the country.
This resulted in the tournament incurring loss of $477,000 in 2016. Declining state and University budgets sealed the end of the tournament.
“We need to make additional budget reductions as we focus on budget investments on efforts that promote and support students’ success. Therefore, it is with regret that I announce that we will eliminate the GCI Great Alaska Shootout beginning in 2018,” Gingerich said.
The UAA Athletic Department has endured various cuts over the years and has had to further examine ways to reduce their costs while maintaining national competitiveness. UAA’s men’s basketball head coach Rusty Osborne described the loss of the annual tournament as saddening, but hopes it will benefit the department.
“It hurts, but I’m also a realist,” Osborne said. “This isn’t about men’s basketball, this is about the university and the state. If this is the sacrifice we need to make, if eliminating the Shootout can help the hockey program reach its goals or the ski program to reach its goals, I’m for it.”
Despite its termination, the GCI Great Alaska Shootout’s success over its 40-year span was immense and memories of the tournament will stay with its numerous fans, supporters, coaches and players.
The GCI Great Alaska Shootout also offered the opportunity for Alaskan locals, who joined Div. I institutions out of state, to return and play in front of their home crowd. Former NBA player Trajan Langdon attended East High School before signing with Duke University. Langdon received immense support from the Alaska crowd while playing in the Shootout’s championship game against Cincinnati in 1998.
In Alaska, The GCI Great Alaska Shootout is associated with Thanksgiving, like Mount Marathon with the Fourth of July and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race with Fur Rendezvous. But this year’s tournament will mark the end of Shootout history. Interim athletic director Tim McDiffett encouraged the Anchorage community and all college basketball fans to enjoy the tournaments atmosphere one final time.
“We will be hosting the 2017 GCI Shootout and our goal will be to make this year’s 40th-anniversary event a celebration of its rich history and we hope fans and supporters will join us in that endeavor this Thanksgiving,” McDiffet said.
The women’s basketball team, NCAA Division II runner-up in 2017, will start off the 2017 GCI Great Alaska Shootout on Nov. 21. The four-team women’s tournament features Binghamton University, the University of Tulsa, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
The men’s tournament begins Nov. 22 with UAA hosting California Polytechnic State University, Central Michigan University, College of Charleston, California State University Bakersfield, University of Idaho, Sam Houston State University and Santa Clara University.
The full schedule can be found at www.goseawolves.com.
Discounted GCI Great Alaska Shootout packages are available for UAA students for $20. They can be purchased at the Alaska Airlines Center Terry Ann Homan Box Office Monday- Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. pm, or at the Student Union Information Desk with valid Wolfcard.
Tickets for the public are available for purchase by calling 907-891-7410 or going to the Alaska Airlines Center Terry Ann Homan Box Office.