Chargers athletic program to see changesPublished 5:23pm Monday, October 24, 2011
Increasingly austere higher education budgets and disproportionate funding among sports teams will result in changes to the athletic program at The University of Alabama in Huntsville.
The university has conducted an in-depth analysis of athletic operations and numerous recommendations have been suggested to strengthen the entire university athletic program.
“We’re in an economic environment where universities must look at the value of every dollar we spend,” said UAHuntsville President Malcolm Portera.
Dr. Portera said the operational review shows that UAHuntsville’s total investment in athletics compares favorably with other Gulf South Conference schools, and is adequate to enable UAHuntsville student-athletes to compete at the Division II level.
“In assessing ways we can balance and strengthen our overall athletic program, we are reviewing a series of recommendations that include additional emphasis on compliance and student advising, realignment of the ice hockey program and a total evaluation of our athletic facilities,” he said.
“This report recommends, and I concur, that Charger ice hockey will best be served by returning to its roots as a club team,” Portera said. Ten of the 12 SEC teams have club hockey teams in addition to other traditional athletic powers in the southeastern United States, such as Georgia Tech, Clemson, Memphis and Florida State.
Hockey began as a club sport at UAHuntsville in 1979. Teams on the schedule in those days included Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Duke, Penn State, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, North Carolina and Illinois.
UAHuntsville’s team won three national club championships in the first six years of the club’s existence. The university’s program was accepted into NCAA Division II in 1985 and won two national championships at that level before the NCAA disbanded Division II hockey in 1998.
According to budget figures, the Division I Charger hockey team’s travel budget is more than all of the other men’s sports combined; hockey’s operations cost three times as much as all other men’s sports combined, and hockey accounts for 40 percent of the total student aid budget for all men’s sports.
Financial difficulties have forced other universities to make similar decisions in recent years. Tight budgets and the high overhead expenses precipitated Wayne State University’s decision to drop its NCAA men’s and women’s ice hockey teams. Findlay University in Ohio also converted to a club sport. Meanwhile, other Division I collegiate programs are currently seeking ways to reduce and control athletic and hockey budgets.
“Charger ice hockey will remain a part of the culture of this university and the city,” Portera said. “However, the opportunity to save the hockey program is much improved by reverting to its original model as a club team.”
The cost savings will allow the university to enhance the operating budgets of the other 15 sports on campus and provide more student aid to a greater number of student-athletes. At the same time, the university will be in a better position to increase funding for high-demand academic programs at UAHuntsville.
“We also believe this provides tremendous opportunities for the up-and-coming young hockey players in North Alabama,” Portera explained. “None of the players on our 24-man roster are from Alabama, but there is a very good possibility that will change by reverting the team into a club league.”
Currently, 14 players on the squad are from Canada, two from Tennessee and one each from Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia and Finland. Only three players from Alabama have been on the roster since the team went Division I in 1999.
Portera announced assistance would be provided to the student-athletes participating in the ice hockey program by continuing to honor the scholarship commitment made by the university. He said if the student-athlete chooses to transfer to another program, the university would provide help in making that relocation as seamless as possible.
Coaches will remain on the payroll through May 31, 2012. The university will assist them in their endeavors to seek future employment.