MANKATO, Minn. (WLUC) - The Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s two Alaska-based teams will play hockey this season, the league confirmed on Saturday, ending speculation about the sport’s immediate future at those universities and ensuring that WCHA teams will be able to play full schedules.
“We have received confirmation from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of Alaska Anchorage that there will be no change in the status of their hockey programs for the 2019-20 season,” WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said in a league press release. “Both teams will compete in the WCHA this season.”
Major budget cuts to Alaska’s university system have put the future of athletics and several other university programs in peril. All sports will play during the upcoming school year, officials said, however, their future beyond 2019-20 does remain in flux, as they continue to deal with slashed state funding.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, a potential consolidation of Alaska’s three universities into a single-accredited, multi-campus institution could result in a lone athletic program, if any.
The newspaper reported that University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen, Anchorage athletic director Greg Myford and Fairbanks AD Keith Champagne will formulate a long-term plan “in the coming weeks.”
What sports survive that decision and which campus they would call home are questions that would need to be answered. Alaska Anchorage has 13 sports, and Alaska Fairbanks has 10. Other than Division I men’s hockey, the two schools compete at the NCAA Division II level.
Minnesota State is scheduled to play six hockey games against the Nanooks and Seawolves this season. The Mavericks will host Anchorage on Nov. 22-23 and Fairbanks on Jan. 3-4, and they will travel to Anchorage for games on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.
“We are pleased with this decision and look forward to another exciting season from our 10 member institutions,” Robertson’s statement continued.
By 2021-22, the Mavericks likely will no longer be in a league with the Alaska teams, even if one or both are still playing.
On June 28, Minnesota State and six other teams — Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan — announced they have given notice to the WCHA with plans to leave the league and form a new conference.
That same day, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy vetoed $130 million from the university budget in addition to $5 million in already-approved cuts. The state legislature reduced the $135 million in cuts to $25 million last week, and that plan been sent to the governor’s desk for approval or veto.