With extensive budget cuts impacting departments university-wide, concerns regarding athletics at UAA — and the future of the sports teams have been expressed. The uncertainty of Seawolf athletics has been looming for several months now, leaving student-athletes and coaches fearful of potential elimination.
A proposal that was later reversed by University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen to cut the ski and track teams raised a lot of controversy in the athletic community and was a reality check for many of the sports teams.
The decision to reverse the proposal by Johnsen and the National Collegiate Athletics Association led to some relieved ski and track athletes, but since budget cuts for the athletic department at UAA are certain, there are now a few other teams rumored to be up for a possible cut.
There is a possibility that both the gymnastics and hockey teams could be the ones to go.
The athletic department is on a $10.36 million budget for the fiscal year 2017, while the sports teams have a total budget of $4.33 million. Hockey is by far the most expensive sport – with a budget of $1,347,311. Gymnastics falls right in the middle of the teams with a $356,826 budget.
Keith Hackett, the director of athletics has high expectations for the student-athletes and coaches, even through all of the unpredictability.
“I still think we are going to have a significant budget reduction, but what we’re waiting on is if it is going to be a budget reduction that is implemented over one year, three years or five years,” Hackett said. “That really changes how our athletic department will continue to operate.”
Hackett revealed that the athletic department will have to rely less on general fund dollars from the state, and continue to work on external fundraising strategies.
“We’re going to have to deal with the reductions that we’re given just like every other department on campus. We’re going to have to deal with the reductions that we get,” Hackett said. “And that’s my job. I have to make sure that we continue to move forward and present the best program we can, even through those difficult budget reductions that are coming.”
Being a division I or II athlete is not easy, and according to gymnast Morgan Ross, student-athletes do a lot for the academic standing as well as the face of the university. Ross is the captain of the gymnastics team and believes that both the gymnasts, and other athletes, provide a lot of benefits both in the community and the classroom.
“I think at this point, it’s pretty much out of our control, and as a gymnastics team we’ve spent a lot of time this semester writing to the Board of Regents and attending different meetings and doing lots of community outreach and volunteer work,” Ross said. “I think at this point we’re just trying to focus on our upcoming season and all of the things we can control instead of worrying what might be happening in the future.”
With a reduction in state support, the athletic department must look for outside resources to support the high budget that is necessary to manage the 13 sports teams at UAA.
Nate Sagan, the assistant director of athletics who specializes in media relations, thinks that the best thing for the athletic community is to patiently wait and see what changes will have to be made.
“There is a lot of decisions to be made in the legislature this term, so I think it’s too early to know what will happen at this point,” Sagan said. “In a perfect world, it would be great to have our normal level of funding, but we understand that things are tough at a statewide level and it would be nice to be able to find a way, with whatever happens, to have the same success – academically and athletically.”
The future of Seawolf athletics is still to be determined, but those in the department are actively working to create the best possible outcome for both coaches and student-athletes.