UA regents unhappy that UAA troubles became public drama

Beth Bragg

After asking for better communication from chancellors and complaining that they weren't happy to see the UAA athletic department's recent dramas unfold in public, the University of Alaska Board of Regents took its discussion of UAA athletics into a closed-door meeting Wednesday night in Fairbanks.

UAA Chancellor Tom Case delivered a brief statement to the regents and responded to a handful of questions and comments before the regents voted to finish the discussion in executive session.

Case's appearance in front of the board came a week after he fired UAA athletic director Steve Cobb. A series of events leading up to the firing -- including the disclosure of a 2011 incident in which former coach Dave Shyiak struck a player with his hockey stick during a practice -- put UAA athletics in the news for much of the last two months.

Regent Gloria O'Neill of Anchorage called the events "extremely unfortunate, because it was so public."

"As you think forward, what kind of communication strategy (can you) employ in the future ... so this nastiness does not have to play out in the community?" she asked Case.

Case replied that he's not sure any communication strategy would have made a difference.

"This unraveled so quickly that I'm not sure communication was the key," he said. "We were communicating what we were doing; there were just those who did not like what we were doing."

Cobb's firing followed two months of turmoil in which members of the hockey community took aim at Cobb for what they perceived as his disinterest in hockey, UAA's flagship sport. Just days before Cobb was fired, Gov. Sean Parnell wrote a letter to University of Alaska president Pat Gamble urging him to take action regarding the well-publicized issues involving UAA athletics.

Among those issues was the 2011 incident in which an angry Shyiak slashed one of his players for not executing a drill properly. Regent Jo Heckman of Fairbanks seemed to be referencing that incident when she asked about policies addressing the behavior of authority figures.

"Do we have very stringent policies on acceptable behavior of the heads of different arenas, whether it's hockey or basketball coaches or athletic directors or assistant coaches?'' she said. "Do we have good policies we can hang our hats on?"

"We do," said Case, noting that the policies are being reviewed to see if changes are needed in light of recent events.

"The task is to make sure everyone is involved in training," he added. "We do that for every new student-athlete that comes in, but we also need to have that communication more often and more broadly with coaches, with staff, and more broadly across the entire university enterprise."

Regent Mary Hughes of Anchorage urged the chancellors at UAA and UAF, Alaska's only schools with intercollegiate sports, to stay on top of what's happening in their athletic departments and to make sure those departments don't become too separate from the rest of the university.

Regent member Fuller Cowell of Big Lake was among those who told Case that chancellors need to improve their communication with regents, whether the subject is sports or something else.

"I don't like to read things in the newspaper before I hear about them (from you)," he said. "In this case I had a dozen emails before I heard anything from the university whatsoever.

"We've got to a figure out a way to communicate instantly with the Board of Regents, or at least keep us in the loop so we're aware this problem is developing so we can seem coherent when people ask us what is happening."

After 25 minutes of public discussion, the board took the rest of the conversation behind closed doors.


Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.