On Aug. 25, Nicole Mah, a sophomore alpine skier for the University of Alaska-Anchorage, rallied with the support of her coaches and team to fight against ski team elimination from the UAA athletics department, once again.
The team last faced elimination in 2016. “The fact that this is happening again is frustrating. I just don’t understand why they keep trying to cut the team when there is a reason that they save it,” said Nicole Mah. “We have been here before and we will fight again.”
UAA is seeking to eliminate four collegiate sports, including the men’s and women’s ski team, in hopes of reducing costs by $2.5 million after state funding has dramatically reduced and shifted the university’s fiscal priorities. The change isn’t scheduled to take effect until the 2021-22 season.
With the elimination of four programs from the UAA roster — men’s hockey, women’s gymnastics, men’s skiing and women’s skiing — the university will no longer be eligible for NCAA status, and prohibits teams from competing at a championship. UAA can ask the NCAA for a temporary waiver, which, if granted, would still require UAA to add another sport to the roster immediately to achieve 10 sport teams.
“Our coaches have been here before and they have the experience and know what to do to help save our team,” said Mah. “Everyone is frustrated and disappointed. We were one of the first athletes teams at UAA, and both alpine and Nordic teams have had a lot of success. They say it’s just a financial decision and nothing against our team.”
The campaign cites benefits the ski team brings to the school and community. Team alumni now represent alpine directors and FIS coaches for programs in Alaska. The ski team serves over 250 hours of direct community service each year including working with the Special Olympics and hosting nightly community Nordic races.
Head ski coach Sparky Anderson is doing what he can to contribute ideas and legislation to create a solution for UAA sports. With proposals of new sports, including men’s volleyball, men’s lacrosse, or men’s soccer, Anderson is relying on a lean team, fewer travel athletes and the ability to match gender equality and Title IX ratios as compelling points to keep the ski team. Anderson also proposes new legislation to the NCAA Division II membership council to explore possible exceptions or amendments for Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico due to unique geographical challenges.
“Our proposed legislative changes have a strong argument,” said Anderson. “This path will help our frontier state navigate these uncertain times and allow our institution to better fit into our unique heritage, geographic location, and deeply rooted cultures.”
Anderson’s proposed legislation for the NCAA Division II Manual includes adding amendments so member institutions located in Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico, may use one individual sport in place of one of the four team sports required to satisfy the minimum 10-sport sponsorship.
“By keeping skiing, a sport that operates leaner and has the ability to adapt as needed for Title IX compliance, you are poised to save millions of critical dollars for the university over the next decade,” said Anderson. “Operating budgets for a team sport like soccer or hockey often run into the millions annually. The University of Colorado’s NCAA soccer budget is 1.7 million dollars without having to fly to and from Alaska. Skiing operates for a fraction of that.”
The campaign encourages supporters to email the Board of Regents by Aug. 31. Chancellor Sandeen will seek approval for the proposed athletes reconfigurations at the University of Alaska Board of Regents’ meeting on Sept. 10-11. If approved, these changes will go into effect for the 2021-22 season to allow for impacted students, coaches, and families to plan for the future.
Support the campaign here.