Minute by minute, the “Days Left to Give” countdown clock on the Save Seawolf Hockey website ticks closer to the deadline for saving the UAA hockey team.
Supporters have until Aug. 31 to raise a program-preserving $3 million dollars, and as of Tuesday afternoon, there were 21 days left to raise a little less than $400,000 — about $19,000 per day from now until the end of the month.
Kathie Bethard, chairwoman of the Save Seawolf Hockey effort, is confident the program will survive. And UAA athletic director Greg Myford is so optimistic he is not only looking for a new hockey coach, he wants to hire one soon.
“We will be reinstated, I’m sure of it,” Bethard said Tuesday afternoon. “Because we will make the $3 million. We may be short on Aug. 31, but we will have a plan forward as far as where the next step is coming from.”
The University of Alaska Regents are scheduled to meet Sept. 9-10, and the future of hockey will likely be decided then.
There may even be a new head coach in place by then to fill the void left when Matt Curley resigned in mid-June.
“With all of the successful work that Save Seawolf Hockey has done, we remain very optimistic on reinstatement, and the coaching search is moving forward accordingly,” Myford said by email.
“But, to be clear, we want to find UAA Hockey’s next coach right away so they will be in a position to hit the ground running upon the formal reinstatement of the program. Waiting to begin the search until after that point would delay recruiting, scheduling and overall planning that needs to get rolling this Fall.”
Myfiord said “at least 20 candidates from all over the country, including Alaska,” have applied for the job.
It’s been nearly a year since now-departed UAA chancellor Cathy Sandeen said the school would cut three athletic programs in response to deep cuts in state funding across the university system.
About a month later, the Board of Regents approved the cuts but gave the programs a shot at reinstatement if they could raise two years’ worth of operating expenses. Alpine skiing met its goal of $628,000 by the end of December and gymnastics met a revised goal of $440,000 in June, with another $440,000 due in June 2022.
That leaves hockey, an expensive program that had by far the biggest fundraising task, as the only program still working toward reinstatement.
Donations small and large have come in from more than 1,000 individuals and businesses, and fundraising events like silent auctions and golf tournaments have also contributed to the tally. Alaska Airlines recently committed $250,000 over five years, which Bethard said will help the program achieve long-term sustainability.
Part of the hockey program’s path to reinstatement includes taking the 2021-22 season off. The Seawolves didn’t play hockey last season either, and although Curley stayed with the school through the 2020-21 school year, he recently resigned to take a job in the U.S. Hockey League.
Myford said there is no application deadline for prospective coaches; the search will remain open until the position is filled, he said.
Hockey is one of 13 NCAA intercollegiate sports at UAA. A school must have a minimum of 10 to meet NCAA Division II membership requirements.
Membership also requires a minimum of two team sports per gender, and without hockey, UAA would be left with one men’s team sport, basketball. (Skiing, track and cross country -- the other men’s sports at UAA -- are considered individual sports).
So although the elimination of hockey would save $1.5 million a year, UAA likely would have to add another men’s team sport, although Myford said the school would request at least a temporary waiver for that requirement.
“We do not need to fully address that until after we know that we would not meet the (requirement for) two men’s team sports,” he said. “We would plan to do so, if necessary, via the request of a waiver versus immediately adding an additional team.
“I feel confident that we will not need to do either, given where we intend to end up with hockey.”
This story has been updated with comments from UAA athletic director Greg Myford.