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ESPN, Shootout part ways

Van Williams | Alaska Sports Hall of FameAlaska Sports Hall of Fame

After seeing its television coverage diminish over the last few years, the Great Alaska Shootout has parted ways with ESPN, ending a partnership that dates back to 1985.

No other Alaska sporting event is telecast to a national audience.

University of Alaska Anchorage athletic director Steve Cobb said Tuesday that the school and tournament host severed its relationship with the popular cable sports network after ESPN created a competing tournament on the same dates as the Shootout.

"We saw this coming two years ago," Cobb said. "They became more difficult to deal with. And when they started their own tournament Thanksgiving week, we saw the writing on the wall. When one of your venders becomes your competitor, and it's something with deep pockets like ESPN, you know the gig is up."

Cobb said he is negotiating a new TV deal with other networks.

"I would say we are cautiously optimistic we will have a national TV deal," Cobb said. "And if we're unable to secure one this year, we are confident we can get a statewide deal to take care of Alaskans."

The Shootout partnered with ESPN long before the sports network became a household name. ESPN helped the Shootout gain national TV exposure, and the station got live basketball games to fill out its schedule.

By upsetting the likes of Missouri, Texas and Wake Forest on ESPN, the Seawolves gained notice. Famous college basketball analyst Dick Vitale dubbed former UAA coach Harry Larrabee "Dancing Harry" for his sideline antics in the 1980s.

ESPN coverage was a huge selling point for recruiting UAA prospects as well as Shootout teams. For years, Seawolf players from the Lower 48 have talked about watching the Shootout on TV and how it helped them identify UAA.

"It's a blow. It's a challenge," Cobb said. "Not many Division II schools get to say they're on ESPN."

Now UAA won't either. But Cobb said a potential new deal could get the Shootout seven televised games. The most ESPN ever did was four, Cobb said, and many years only three games were telecast.

"You can be on national TV on a lot of places, not just ESPN," Cobb said. "If we can just get on television, our fans and our recruits will find us. There are a lot of sports networks out there."