Alabama-Huntsville has dropped its hockey program, effectively immediately. The players were informed today, CHN sources have confirmed.
Alabama-Huntsville, which also dropped men’s and women’s tennis, addressed the situation in a late afternoon news release, signed by school president Darren Dawson and athletic director Cade Smith.
“After a comprehensive review of UAH’s athletic offerings and the associated long-term budget implications, we have made the difficult decision,” the release said. “We are making this decision now to allow our student-athletes in hockey, men’s and women’s tennis programs to have the opportunity to play at another institution if they choose to do so. Student-athletes who would like to join another institution’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. For student-athletes associated with these three programs who wish to complete their education at UAH, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of the students’ academic careers.”
College hockey’s brief expansion to 61 teams was short-lived. Long Island University, which still doesn’t have a coach, recently announced it would start a program and begin play this coming fall.
In an interview Friday evening with Justin Bradford of Penalty Box Radio, athletic director Smith indicated that the coronavirus situation was not necessarily the only factor contributing to the program’s demise, but certainly pushed it over the edge.
“Did the virus make it worse and maybe expedite the process, yes. But to blame it on just one thing I don’t think is fair,” Smith said to Bradford. “There’s more in there, in terms of what are we spending, what are spending relative to other things. Hockey is an expensive sport, and it has to be an expensive sport based on where we are. We have good coaches that work hard within their budget; they couldn’t have done things for much cheaper than what they did — they stayed within our parameters. But at the end of the day, we can’t function at that level, for what we needed to be competitive at Division I hockey.”
UAH is the first school to cut its D-I men’s hockey program since Wayne State in 2008.
UAH hockey is far from the first sport dropped this spring, and won’t be the last. The coronavirus pandemic has created massive budget problems at many universities across the country, a combination of refunds given for the spring semester when students were sent home early, and lack of athletic department revenue generated by games and tournaments. Plus, there is a good chance this will continue well into the next school year.
But Alabama-Huntsville’s future was already cloudy, so the decision is not unexpected. With seven of the current 10 WCHA schools announcing they would be leaving the conference starting in 2021-22, UAH and the two Alaska schools were set to be left behind.
Budget issues for all three of those schools have been a problem for years. The UAH program was set to be eliminated a few years ago, but was saved at the last minute, and had stabilized somewhat in the WCHA.
“That’s handcuffed us pretty strongly,” Smith told Penalty Box Radio about the impending breakup of the WCHA. “The people we talked to through our consultants, it wasn’t leading to much of a home for us in the future. That definitely complicated, if not a driving force. That was a hurtful thing. That was one week into me being interim AD. I’ll have to write a book whenever I’m done with this.”
The coronavirus situations is sure to cause more disturbance in college hockey going forward. At best, schools are going to have their travel restricted, which will see out of conference games being moved to other years or eliminated. In some cases, that has already happened.
It’s also possible some schools won’t be open on campus this fall, meaning some programs will have to wait until the second semester to play.
In other cases, budget issues could get so severe that more schools will eliminate programs. Bowling Green recently eliminated its baseball program, the only other college hockey-playing school to be affected by a program cut so far.
“We are deeply saddened by today’s news that Alabama Huntsville has eliminated its men’s ice hockey program,” WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said in a statement. “UAH has been a valued member of the WCHA since joining the league in 2013 and, as the first Division I hockey school in the Deep South, brought the sport to a previously untapped fan base for college hockey.
“We want to wish all the best to UAH head coach Mike Corbett, his assistant coaches, support staff and the Charger players affected by this decision and hope to see all of them at new schools in time for the 2020-21 season.”