Alabama-Huntsville announced on Friday that the school will drop their college hockey program effective immediately.
The challenges posed by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic were cited as the reason, but the future of hockey at Alabama-Huntsville was beyond grim well before that. Alabama-Huntsville was one of three schools in the current WCHA that was not extended an invitation to join the new CCHA conference set to begin in 2021-2022. And with the unlikelihood of having a conference home after next season, it would have been very difficult for them to continue as an independent.
While the final announcement is sad, it also felt inevitable; the final domino in a long string finally falling. After making the NCAA Tournament as an autobid in the final year of the College Hockey America conference in 2010, the Chargers trudged through two miserable seasons as an independent, announcing their intention to drop the program in 2011.
A fantastic show of alumni support helped stave off the elimination of the program, but the Chargers were never able to generate the type of funding necessary to be competitive in D-1 men’s college hockey.
The program was given a lifeline in early 2013, when they were admitted into the WCHA in the midst of college hockey’s realignment in the west. Alabama-Huntsville was the last program admitted to the conference in the realignment, months after the other nine members had agreed to join the league. The delay was caused in part because of skepticism by many league members that Alabama-Huntsville would be capable of funding its’ program to a level that it could be competitive. Alabama-Huntsville gave assurances that they would do what it would take to be competitive, and eventually, they were given the opportunity to become the league’s 10th member.
The concerns of those fellow league members ended up to be justified, however. The Chargers finished in the bottom eight teams nationally every year that they were members of the WCHA, winning just four total games against non-conference opponents in six years. A league game against Alabama-Huntsville was often either a win of so little value it was thrown out by college hockey’s computer rankings, or a loss that could potentially be devastating to those computer rankings. The WCHA gave Alabama-Huntsville the opportunity to build their program, but it just wasn’t going to happen, and it’s difficult to blame the rest of the league for moving on.
It’s sad to see any team drop their program and limit the amount of opportunities out there, and especially so with one of the sport’s unique geographical outliers. But ultimately, if Alabama-Huntsville wasn’t going to be able to perform at a competitive level, it really didn’t sense for them to continue on.