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Alaska Schools Will Play This Season; Future Beyond That Unclear

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Empty Net Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

The University of Alaska system has been dealing this summer with the effects of a crippling $135 million budget cut from the state government, that has put the already-tenuous future of Alaska’s two Division I hockey programs, to say nothing of the university itself, in serious peril.

In late-July, the University of Alaska regents voted to declare financial exigency, the university equivalent of declaring bankruptcy, which allows the university to take dramatic measures in cutting programs and tenured faculty.

This past Tuesday, the regents voted to begin the process of moving the state’s three universities—Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks, and Alaska Southeast—into a single accredited university. The single university would potentially save money by reducing redundancies in programs and administration.

On Friday, a university spokesperson said that all athletic programs would proceed as planned for the upcoming 2019-2020 year. But what a single university model means in the long-term for the hockey programs in Anchorage and Fairbanks is still unclear.

If the schools combine into a single accredited university, they would obviously only be allowed to have one hockey team. Where that team would be placed would have to be decided. Fairbanks is typically considered the stronger hockey market, having relatively more success and drawing relatively more people than Anchorage in recent years. Though with Anchorage having three times the undergraduate enrollment of Fairbanks, it is likely to have a greater variety of academic programs to offer potential students. Also, it’s unclear if the NCAA will force Alaska to put all of their athletic programs in the same city. Perhaps a team based out of Anchorage could play a certain number of home games in Fairbanks as a compromise.

Even if an Alaska program survives these budget cuts, they would still face an uncertain future after seven members of the WCHA opted to leave the conference after the 2020-2021 season, leaving the Alaska schools without a future conference. That said, a single Alaska school may have a much easier time finding a home in a conference, or surviving as an independent, assuming they can find a way to stay competitive as they go through this tumultuous period.