From Shootout to entire teams, UAA sports are under scrutiny as budget cuts loom

UAA's athletic department may slash nearly 16 percent, or $1.7 million, from its budget in the coming fiscal year, when significant cuts are expected throughout the University of Alaska system to help address the state's $4 billion budget gap.

Athletic director Keith Hackett said he expects to make cuts to all 13 of the school's sports teams in fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1.

Hackett said nearly every possibility is under consideration. Layoffs and reduced services are likely, and the elimination of one or more sport, or even a showcase event like the Great Alaska Shootout basketball tournament, is a possibility.

Precisely how much the department will have to lop off its budget of $10.5 million from fiscal year 2016 is unknown because the Legislature has yet to pass a budget for 2017.

UAA is planning to make overall budget cuts of $19-28 million, UA President Jim Johnsen said last month in a presentation to the Board of Regents.

"We're in a crisis, and we have to manage it like a crisis,'' Hackett said. "The only thing I think about all day is the budget.

"My job, from a leadership perspective, is that I'll have to make some tough decisions. We're no different that any other part of the campus. We're a community, and everyone is going to have to make tough decisions. Everyone is going through this gut-wrenching drill.''

A cut of $1.7 million to the UAA athletic department, which also encompasses campus recreation and intramural sports, would amount to a reduction of about 16 percent.

Hackett said Bill Spindle, who is UAA's vice chancellor for administrative services and oversees athletics, told him to plan for cuts as high as $1.7 million. Hackett said he is one of six employees in the athletic department spending significant time working on the budget.

Hackett said his best-case scenario envisions making "horizontal cuts'' — reductions shared by all sports and athletic-department programs — instead of "vertical cuts'' – whacking a sport or event.

"Everything we do here — sports, administration, campus recreation, intramurals — is something we have to look at, and meet that challenge,'' Hackett said. "It's a big task.''

Hackett said UAA athletics cut a combined $1 million from its budget in fiscal years 2016 and 2015. He said his department is supplementing budget cuts by trying to drum up more sponsorship dollars.

NCAA and conference membership requirements likely protect nearly half of UAA's sports teams — six of 13 — from elimination.

UAA's membership in NCAA Division II requires a minimum of 10 sports, including at least two "team'' sports in each gender. Men's and women's basketball, women's volleyball and men's hockey are UAA's team sports.

Additionally, UAA belongs to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, which requires members to offer five specific sports — men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross-country running, and volleyball.

That leaves seven UAA sports unprotected by NCAA and GNAC membership requirements. Those sports are men's and women's skiing, men's and women's indoor track, men's and women's outdoor track, and gymnastics.

Doyle Woody

Doyle Woody covered hockey and other sports for the Anchorage Daily News for 34 years.