On Sept. 10, when the University of Alaska Anchorage board of regents elected to eliminate alpine ski racing from its roster of NCAA sport programs due to state funding cuts, it raised a red flag for head coach Sparky Anderson — not only for his now-threatened Seawolf alpine ski team, but for NCAA programs across the country.
In NCAA circles, Nordic and alpine skiing are considered one sport. (It’s a concept that dates back to the old ski meister days.) In order to preserve its NCAA status, the University of Alaska must continue to support 10 sport programs. The university plans to retain the Nordic program while eliminating alpine, thereby retaining the sport of “skiing” at roughly half the budget.
In a shrinking NCAA west, which in recent years has already lost programs, such as the University of New Mexico, University of Nevada, and Western State College, this is an alarming revelation for proponents of NCAA racing — the revelation that a university could slash one of those two programs, Nordic or alpine, and still “get credit” for the entire skiing program.
Anderson, a 20-year Alaska resident, is concerned it’s a model that could be replicated elsewhere, and it’s motivated him to fight tooth and nail to save his race team.
“This decision by our regents, at a school where we’ve successfully had all four events, to eliminate half of them because of budget and still retain the sport (on paper), this is important to everybody else in the community because I think we’re a bellwether,” said Anderson. “Everyone is going to see that you can do that, and that’s a scary road to go down. I really, personally, want to get that message out.”
Anderson, 51, says he hopes to remain in the job for a few more years, but his ultimate goal is to pass on a healthy and stable program to the next generation of coaches and skiers.
“To me, it’s a living, breathing entity, and I want college skiing to go on, because it’s important. But I essentially want this program to live on, and I think it could be an example of how college skiing ought to be,” said Anderson. “Especially these western schools, we need to get support from alumni and be a band of brothers and sisters and support each other so we don’t die out.”
To save the program, Anderson, his athletes and the Seawolf community have launched an ambitious fundraising campaign. The goal is to raise a total of $628,000 over the next two years, half of which ($314,000) needs to be secured in cash by Dec. 31, 2020. The remainder can be secured in the form of pledges for the following season.
Most importantly, Anderson says, if this goal is met, the program will be retained permanently.
“The chancellor (Cathy Sandeen) said publicly at the board of regents meeting that, if we can raise this money and come up with two years of operating cost, she anticipates restructuring of the university and economic forecasting to improve to the point where the sports that we have will be reinstated and funded,” Anderson said.
The goal of the campaign is to motivate approximately 314 people to donate $1,000 and pledge $1,000. Obviously, larger and smaller donations are encouraged and appreciated, but if you look at the task in those terms, it doesn’t seem quite as daunting, according to the campaign.
As of press time, the team had raised more than $36,000 with another $35,000 pledged, just days after launching the campaign.
“Alaska is a much cooler place because we have ski racers here,” said Anderson, “and if we lose the ability to attract these people, we’re going to lose a huge piece of what we are as a community.”