Mike Dingman: Curtains won't help UAA hockey

The University of Alaska Anchorage Athletics program has decided it's curtains for the UAA hockey program - literally.

Instead of working to fill the seats of the Sullivan Arena, the UAA Athletic Department has decided to purchase curtains to cover all but a few rows of one section of the balcony seating.

I have been a UAA hockey fan since before I was old enough to climb the stairs at the Sullivan Arena. I have attended nearly every game for the last 14 years since I attended UAA and served as the student body president.

I used to repeatedly hang up the phone and dial the phone number to KENI radio (before there was a redial button) to win coveted UAA hockey tickets from the great Dick Lobell on his local radio sports talk show.

I know a little bit about UAA hockey.

Some might have thought that the problems in the UAA Athletic Department would have gone away after Dr. Steve Cobb was fired. The problem is that is the Cobb virus still infects the athletic department and they clearly still hate hockey.

For those that lived under a rock over the last few years Dr. Cobb led the administration that oversaw a serious decline in the hockey program, the planning and building of a sports center on campus that didn't include an ice rink for hockey games.

So UAA finally fired the hockey coach and the athletic director. This was all far too late, nonetheless, a good first step. Much like in government, however, the power remains with those behind the scenes.

A big part of the reason why term limits don't change the culture of government - much of the real power lies with the administrators who are in charge of the day to day practical application - The same is true within departments of the University.

The thing about the athletic department staff is that they were fiercely supportive of Dr. Cobb before his firing. One of those people is Tim McDiffitt, the associate athletic director in charge of external affairs.

Most people are openly supportive of their boss, that's just smart. When I would interview or just talk to members of the athletic department however, I got a weird feeling about how supportive they were. He could do no wrong in their eyes. They would get offended if I suggested that Cobb made the wrong decision. It seemed very cult-like to me.

So the athletic department that has been accused of ignoring the hockey program is at it again. In case you're saying to yourself "Hey, they have a new athletic director and head coach, isn't this (curtains) their plan," Mr. McDiffitt informed me that this is a plan "we have considered doing for years."

Instead of being proactive in filling seats for a tournament that will feature the runner up to in the NCAA D-I National Championship game, they have decided to call it curtains and shut out fans that have been sitting in balcony seats for years, because with the high glass it is the best place to see the entire ice surface, unobstructed.

Now the concept of putting up curtains may sound familiar. That's because the defunct arena football team the Alaska Wild did it in the waning moments of their brief existence.

Before they moved to this extreme step, however, the Wild gave away as many tickets as they could, they reached out to community organizations and businesses to get people in the door for free and lowered the price of tickets and packages of tickets - I have seen no evidence that UAA has done any of this.

Instead, they ordered curtains.

UAA athletics should take a field trip to an Alaska Aces game. Bob Lester is a master at getting crowds up on their feet and making noise. The Aces enhanced this level of noise by selling and encouraging people to use cowbells.

The Aces also have great partnerships with organizations and businesses - it's likely that you know more than one person who has access to Aces season tickets through their group or employer.

That's one of the many methods the Aces have implemented to put fans in the seats. UAA needs to learn these ideas and move forward working towards filling all the seats in the arena, not hiding them.

They need to be proactive rather than reactive or else it's curtains for UAA hockey.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former student body president at UAA and has studied, worked and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.