The GCI Great Alaska Shootout (previously called the Seawolf Classic) is a traditional collegiate basketball tournament that has been played since the late 1970s. This qualifies it as one of the longest running NCAA affiliated basketball tournaments, with a total of 40 years after the 2017 tournament.
Head coach Rusty Osborne, who has coached through 13 years of the shootout, is disappointed, but realized it’s a necessary cut.
“It’s a little bittersweet, but it’s the time we live in,” 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.”
Prior to the opening of the Alaska Airlines Center in 2014, games were played in the Sullivan Arena (1983-2013) and the Buckner Fieldhouse (1978-1982).
While the Sullivan was still the main site of the shootout, Josh Evans was still on the team and actively playing in the shootout every year (2000-2004).
“Playing in front of the big crowds at the Sullivan Arena was special, since we normally played at The Wells Fargo [Sports Complex] on campus which was a much smaller gym. Being the local underdog team against the D1 schools have the crowd a little extra reason to root for us,” Evans said.
The shootout initially drew a lot of attention from collegiate basketball teams all over the nation due to National Collegiate Athletic Association rules allowing exempted games to take place out of the continental United States, which would not count towards the regular season game limit.
Division I and II teams have joined the Seawolves every year. Each year, there has been at least one DI team that has qualified for the NCAA DI National Tournament that has also played in the shootout. In 1985, there was a record high six teams that qualified for the tournament.
Almost all former players at UAA got to experience that competition, including Lonnie Ridgeway who played for the Seawolves on and off between 2007 through 2012.
“I think it was beneficial for UAA basketball to be able to have exposure to that many teams and play against them. The Great Alaska Shootout was a huge recruiting tool and as a player, you have the opportunity to play against teams and players you’ve only seen on television,” Ridgeway said. “It’s exciting for UAA players to play against Division I powerhouse schools and players and do well.”
The Shootout has brought mass attention to the games, with a high of 60,150 in attendance in 2007, only to start dwindling to the record low of 19,653 in 2016.
Peter Bullock, originally from East High School, played as a top-end forward for the Seawolves from 2000-2004.
“The high level competition [that came to the tournament] made you feel like even in Alaska we could measure our skills against some of the best competition the world has to offer at the amateur level,” Bullock said.
Over 300 athletes who have competed in the shootout have even gone on to play for the NBA.
“The Shootout was bigger than college basketball, it’s part of Alaska’s culture. I grew up in Anchorage and have fond memories of being a kid and going to the games with friends and goofing around,” Ridgeway said, “I remember eating overpriced food and trying to strike up conversations with Corey Maggette, Dwyane Wade, Antawn Jamison, Nate Robinson, Vince Carter, Trajan Langdon, Andrew Bogut, Rodney Stuckey, Caron Butler and some other big names as they were waiting to play.”
As of recent years, the Shootout hosted more mid-range teams. This contributed to the end of ESPN coverage in substitution for CBS Sports Network coverage.
Just last year, the shootout lost nearly $500,000. All business ties that the event had in the Anchorage community will also cease to exist, including GCI, being the main sponsor of the event and Carrs/Safeway being the previous primary sponsor.
“The Shootout has been an iconic event at UAA for 40 years, but unfortunately we cannot sustain our funding of this tournament in the current budget climate,” UAA Interim Chancellor Sam Gingerich said. “We are grateful for the enthusiastic support we’ve received over the years from our community, fans, volunteers, civic and business leaders and donors.”
Despite the economic benefits that the end of the shootout brings, the social aspect of it will be a definite loss.
“The Shootout literally brought the city of Anchorage together and added to Anchorage’s overall economy. The Shootout will be missed,” Ridgeway said.
As for the 40th and final shootout, the beginning of the tournament will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
This year, the Seawolves will be hosting seven other teams including Cal Poly, College of Charleston, Central Michigan, Sam Houston State, University of Idaho, Santa Clara University and CSU Bakersfield.
For an updated schedule as games take place, visit www.goseawolves.com.