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Who Is to Blame For Huntsville's Demise?

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Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Alabama-Huntsville choosing to drop their hockey program is that this one feels a little different than other times we've college hockey programs fold. It's not like nobody cared about the program. The Chargers are just a few years removed from outdrawing national-powerhouse-by-fiat Notre Dame despite a home schedule made up of the likes of Bemidji State and Niagara. It's not like they had arena problems where they were playing in a converted pool like Findlay or Act II of a Scooby-Doo episode like Wayne State. They played in an arena twice the size of dynasty-by-fiat Miami. So why won't the Chargers be playing Division I hockey next fall?

A lot of the blame has been going to interim president at UAH Malcolm Portera, and understandably so, since he was the one to make the final decision to pull the plug on a program that has long been on life support. It goes without saying that dropping the school's only D-I program probably isn't a great move for the school. UAH's hockey program put an alum in a major professional sports league, gaining the school untold exposure. I doubt the exposure of the UAH women's softball program extends much beyond family members of the participants.

But ultimately, the financial numbers were such that Portera felt that the school would be better off without the program. You can criticize him for making for making such a cold-blooded financial decision, but it's a little late to jump on that bandwagon in college hockey. It sucks that the players at Huntsville, and their fans were reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet, But weren't those same cold financial calculations made in places like Grand Forks, and Denver, and Oxford, and St. Cloud this past summer; if not affecting their players and fans, then certainly affecting the players and fans of the schools they left behind?

As time passes, I think we'll look back at UAH's failure to get into the CCHA as the defining moment that spelled their doom more than one particularly evil interim president. Maybe they would have gotten the axe either way, but they would have at least had a chance at survival. Shortly after that big vote which sealed UAH's fate, a CCHA coach said, "The only reason to vote for UAH to get into the CCHA is because you feel bad for them." The truth is, long before Malcolm Portera came to Huntsville, asked "What's in this for me?" and decided there wasn't enough to hold his interest, many, many college hockey programs asked the same question and came to the same conclusion. As an epilogue, less than a year after that statement, that coach's team had announced they were leaving the CCHA. That maybe wasn't the best thing for college hockey, but financially it was the right thing to do.