UAA canceled its indoor winter sports seasons Friday.
The Seawolves won’t compete in hockey, men’s or women’s basketball, gymnastics or indoor track because of “the ongoing health risks and increasing protocol restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” the university said in a written statement.
“I weighed many factors and relied upon the guidance of public health officials to make the very difficult decision that our indoor winter sports teams would not compete this season,” UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said in the statement.
“My first priority is the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff. I know this is a disappointment. Our student-athletes have continued to work hard each day in the midst of much uncertainty due to the ongoing pandemic. I am proud of the resilience they have shown.”
The decision could mean Anchorage will never again see the Seawolves compete in hockey or gymnastics.
The University of Alaska’s Board of Regents approved the cuts, but gave each team a chance for reinstatement if it can raise two years' worth of operating expenses by February. If the fundraising goals can’t be met — which for hockey means $3 million — the teams will be eliminated after the current school year.
For the hockey and gymnastics teams, that could mean the 2019-20 seasons were their last.
The nordic and alpine ski teams will be able to compete this season, UAA said.
In Fairbanks, officials at UAF are taking a wait-and-see approach. According to a press release, the school is “opting in to postponed winter intercollegiate athletics seasons.”
“What this means for UAF is that we are not closing the door on the possibility of competition if we deem it safe to do so after the holidays,” chancellor Dan White said in an announcement Friday. “Opting in does not obligate UAF to compete, but it preserves our right to do so when the time comes and we feel it can be done safely.”
UAA athletes who lose a season because of Friday’s cancellations will retain an additional year of eligibility, the school said — a decision the NCAA made earlier this year.
Ryan McCarthy, the women’s basketball coach, said he expects all of his seniors to return next season except for one, Amelia Motz, a forward who played in every game in UAA’s 30-2 campaign last season.
“They are all sad, no doubt, but understand the situation our state and country are in,” McCarthy said by text.
“Right now we are allowed to practice, which is critical to keep structure and have check points for our student-athletes academically and athletically,” he added. “But our mission as coaches remains the same. We are about opportunity and transformation and both things can be accomplished despite the cancellation of competition.”
Decisions on the volleyball and cross country seasons — fall sports that were postponed until the spring — will be made later, as will a decision about outdoor track and field.
“Coronavirus has proven to be a merciless opponent with a simple game plan to spread with stealth and speed,” UAA athletic director Greg Myford said Friday in a written statement. “Although we all want to beat this thing right now, today’s decision is about making the responsible choices and taking the required steps to guard against losing to it.”
Earlier in the day, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference issued a news release that said the Seawolves won’t play a conference schedule this season but UAF will.
According to the release, UAA is among six schools that have “decided that they will not participate in the conference basketball season for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
That was news to UAA men’s basketball coach Rusty Osborne.
“I know as much as you do, unfortunately,” he said by text.
Only four teams say they will compete in GNAC basketball this school year, including UAF. Others are Northwest Nazarene, Saint Martin’s and Seattle Pacific.
The six that won’t play are UAA, Central Washington, Montana State Billings, Simon Fraser, Western Oregon and Western Washington.
Teams participating in GNAC games must undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and players not on the court must wear masks, the conference said. No games will be played before Jan. 7, and no spectators will be allowed.