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Wasilla gymnast is first athlete to leave UAA because of financial uncertainties

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: July 25
  • Published July 25

A gymnast from Wasilla is the first athlete to leave UAA because of Alaska’s state budget impasse.

Ali Marvel, who as a freshman last season was a top contributor in balance beam and vault, said she is transferring to the University of Wyoming, which doesn’t have a gymnastics team.

“So it’s sad,” she said, “but it was kind of late and that was my option.”

UAA athletic department spokesman Nate Sagan said Marvel is the first athlete to leave because of the financial uncertainties facing the school and its students. Fall semester classes are set to begin Aug. 26.

A couple of options for absorbing deep cuts are being considered, including one that would require $50 million worth of cuts at UAA for fiscal year 2020. On Thursday, UAA chancellor Cathy Sandeen released a plan that would include a $4 million cut to athletics.

“Please note these are not final decisions,” Sandeen wrote, using italics as emphasis.

Marvel, an honor roll graduate of Mat-Su Career & Technical High School, was among thousands of Alaska Performance Scholarship recipients who were told earlier this month their scholarships couldn’t be funded for the upcoming school year without action from the Alaska Legislature. A budget move known as a reverse sweep is needed to free up the funding, and it’s among the issues that have stalemated lawmakers this week during a special session in Juneau.

Marvel said that even if scholarship money becomes available, she is going to transfer. She is a sociology major, and sociology is among the academic programs labeled “periphery” in a draft planning document released Thursday by Sandeen.

“Even if I got (the scholarship) back, I’m there for the degree,” Marvel said. “I need to get my education, and if they can’t provide it, I want to go somewhere that can.”

The draft planning document released Thursday “outlines how UAA might focus in light of a significant budget reduction,” Sandeen said in an email sent to university students and employees.

Sandeen’s email included a spreadsheet showing what might happen if the University of Alaska loses $135 million in state funding, which is the current situation. The Board of Regents earlier this week declared financial exigency.

In one of a couple of options being considered in the event those deep cuts happen, university president Jim Johnsen “has indicated UAA’s portion of the state unrestricted general funds (UGF) reduction will be $50 million,” Sandeen’s email said.

Johnsen directed chancellors to provide a plan for how those cuts would be made, and the proposal included in Sandeen’s email included a $4 million cut to “athletics operations.” UAA’s athletic budget for fiscal year 2017 was $10.36 million.

UAA athletic director Greg Myford responded with a written statement provided by the school:

“Not surprisingly, the budget process has been very challenging and continues to be. Chancellor Sandeen's invitation today to the UAA community to participate in the budget process is encouraging. During this time of uncertainty, our athletics staff continues to support our student-athletes as they return to campus and prepare to compete.”

UAA gymnastics coach Tanya Ho said no one other than Marvel has talked to her about transferring, but others are eager to know what’s happening.

“I’ve had two incoming freshmen reach out to me just trying to get assurance about this year, and I can’t give that to them,” Ho said.

“I’m telling them I don’t know and I can’t assure them. It’s the hardest thing.”

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