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College Hockey:
Alabama-Huntsville backers plan appeal to community through grassroots effort

Supporters fear the school's interim president will kill the program.

Alabama-Huntsville alumni and community leaders will announce a “grassroots effort and call on community to get involved to save NCAA Division I hockey at UAH,” at a news conference scheduled for Thursday.

The news conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. CDT at the Huntsville Municipal IcePlex.

Leaders will ask all UAH alumni and hockey fans to show support for the program and to help persuade the Huntsville administration to give the community a chance to save the program, one that has been shrouded in doubt since playing last season as an independent.

The Chargers made the NCAA tournament in 2007 and 2010 after winning the College Hockey America postseason tournaments. The 2010 title was the final one in the short history of the CHA.

One longtime UAH supporter and alum, Geof Morris of saveuahhockey.com and uahhockey.com, is not part of the group organizing Thursday’s event, but will be in attendance to perhaps voice his views and opinions.

“[The UAH administration] has not been supportive,” Morris said. “When [former UAH president] David Williams was rushed out the door in March, UAH hockey had lost two advocates in the span of three months [with the late UAH athletic director Jim Harris being the other]. Mack Portera, who is chancellor of the UA system as well as the interim president, seems to have his sights set on dropping varsity hockey.”

Morris’ perspective of Chargers hockey seemed to be fine and dandy — until Portera was named interim president.

“Until about two months ago, I thought we were in the same shape we have been since August 2009 — working hard to recruit against and play an independent schedule, but really hoping something opened up conference-wise,” Morris said. “As soon as Penn State announced that they were going varsity, we knew that the landscape would change and that we could get a shot at a conference bid again.

“Then Mack Portera’s strong push to end the program — a push that’s based around some wrong thinking and some misinformation — changed everyone’s perspective down here. We’ve gone from an external threat to an internal one.

“In short, no one, especially not us, can afford to play as an independent the way Division I college hockey is set up. We thought the conference situation would resolve itself, but now the internal problems are raising up.”

Jared Ross, a standout and former captain at UAH from 2001 to 2005 who has since played 13 games in the NHL with Philadelphia, sent an email to alumni a few months back asking for support. More than $500,000 has been pledged over the next three seasons, program supporter and former Chargers player Keith Rowe said.

“We have been working behind the scenes with Jared,” Morris said. “We didn’t want to blow the lid off too early, especially not knowing what the funding level would need to be for the program to thrive. We’ve finally gotten that $500,000 yearly figure and we’re close to $200,000 a year for the next three years in support without going to the larger university and Huntsville community for help.”

Morris added that should hockey be gassed at UAH, the kids will be the ones who will suffer.

“The Southeast is the fastest growing sector of USA Hockey-monitored programs and Alabama is right up there with Georgia,” Morris said. “Huntsville is the linchpin to the state results in the same way that Atlanta is to Georgia. If you take UAH hockey out of Huntsville, I think you take a lot of wind out of youth hockey’s sails. I firmly believe that hockey has its place in the youth sports landscape, and to pull this program out hurts that.

“As for UAH, hockey is our Division I sport. We’ve had a tough five years, but the boys haven’t quit working to become better players and young men. I would hope that the college hockey community considers us key to any Southern expansion. There are great club programs across the South, but there’s only the one varsity program daring to do the tough thing and play a northern sport with all the bus trips that entails. It’s something we’ve done at the varsity level for almost 30 years.

“I think we’ve long passed the question, ‘Why?’ by presenting the response of ‘Why not?’”

An email message to an Alabama-Huntsville spokesperson seeking comment from the administration was not immediately returned.


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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VCPIBR5SQVNDYE4Y32Q53WTWAI Frank

    Hey WCHA Commission Bruce McLeod

       Awake up you. Will you invite UAH to WCHA? UAH team is closer to WCHA teams than UAF and UAA.  Not fair for UAH.  lets UAH “WELCOME to WCHA”
    I preview IF UAH is joining WCHA. UAH team will be the best team in WCHA.

    • Fan Man

      Not a chance UAH will be the best team in the WCHA frank.  Sorry!  I do though support what they are doing down south.  Somebody (Hmmm Bruce maybe) needs to accept them into their conference so that it preserves what little hockey values remain down south.      On another note, I cant seem to figure out why/how a four team division got an auto bid into the ncaa tourney?  I looked at the stats and they only had won 6 games in that conference that year…..   Alot of goods teams (Gophers etc..) missed out on that oppurtunity.  Im glad the conferences made the switch for the 2013-14 season.  Put THEE best of the best where they belong to be…on the big screen

      • Mike

        They had an automatic bid because it was a conference of 6 in the past.  The rules stated that they could retain the automatic bid for so many years with less than 6 teams in it.  They won the conference tourny and deserved to play.

        • Fan Man

          Thanks for clearing that up guys.  Didnt fully understand the rules on a 4 team league! 

          Go Sioux~

      • Anonymous

        If the Gophers would have won the F5 that year they too could have had an AQ.

        The NCAA does allow a two year window if a conference falls below 6 if a team folds or moves.  You can’t penalize the other teams for things beyond their control.  At least that’s what I recall being the rule.

        The UAH/Miami game in the NCAA was pretty close – I think Miami was glad to get out of that one. It was not a blow out. They deserved to be there like anyone else who wins the conference tourney

    • Ams1117

      If the WCHA was going to invite UAH they would have done it when they invited the CCHA teams.  The new NCHC needs to step up and invite UAH.  DU and CC are used to traveling to Alaska and Houghton, Michigan with the WCHA.  Now they have eliminated that travel.  Houghton and Huntsville are approximately the same distance from Denver.  The other NCHC teams also lose the trip to Alaska so adding UAH will just replace that trip.  Plus, it would be a great PR move (putting the best interests of college hockey first by helping the UAH program).  It will also increase their exposure to new markets and add a different market for the TV deal.  A win-win for everyone.  

      • Bruce

        From NCHC member Miami U in Oxford OH to Hunstville AL is a 7 hour drive, much shorter that their current CCHA drives to NMU and LSSU and only about 45 minutes longer than their current CCHA drive to FSU.

    • Davyd83

      UAF pays nearly all travel expenses for the visiting teams and UAA pays a significant portion as well. Teams also get an exemption for games played in Alaska, allowing them to play 2 more games for each trip to Alaska.

  • JamesDee

    Lets not forget college hockey teams in non traditional hockey areas like Northern Arizona and the college hockey team out of San Diego that also folded. 

    Hopefully UAH Chargers can prove history wrong. I just dont understand why the WCHA hasnt given an invitation to the league. 

    NCHC would be nice for UAH Chargers but egos will let this not happen. It would sure define the National term for the league.

    I believe that October 1 is the deadline for UAH to get into a league. Time will tell. 

  • Spanky

    Who really cares about UAH. They are never going to be relevant anyways. No top recruits from Minnesota, Mass, or Canada are going to go down there and play so they will always be a bottom feeder even if they join a conference. The only conference that could possibly want to invite them would be Atlantic Hockey but they won’t unless they lose a team to another conference because they already have 12 teams.

  • pejz

    the ncaa should step in and exempt 2 games per team to play independent teams

  • Ebergsven

    I may be a Bemidji State fan, but there is no way that I would want to see UAH hockey and their fans go away. The rivalry is too sweet and I know how it feels to possibly loose your program or worry about it’s future. Lets save UAH! Go Chargers!

    • Anonymous

      Yes – you remember the days a decade ago when the BSU program was on shaky ground.  Making the step to D1 was an expensive and risky proposition at the time. It took community and alumi support to make D1 happen and keep the program going.  These programs at the smaller schools cannot happen on their own.  This is the issue UAH faces.  I don’t think the admin down there is “against” hockey – it’s a dollars and cents issue.  The program cannot lose money.  Even larger schools find the money and support can only go so far.  UNO dropped football and wrestling – those were not bottom feeder programs.  SCSU seriously considered dropping football recently.  Tech, a smaller school, even considered dropping football a few years back if I remember right.

      The conference affliliation item is again not so much other conferences want to see UAH fail – it’s a financial thing.  Administrators often need to check their emotions at the door and look these things from a different angle than fans oftern do.  No conference wants to take on a program that may fold.  If UAH can show the WCHA, NCHC, or whomever they are financially solvent and have committed support from UAH administration then a conference home will likely fall into place.

  • UpNorthHockey

    The main obstacle for UAH entering the WCHA is the dwindling $$ and increasing costs for college hockey.  The new WCHA will be losing a LOT of revenue in 2013 with the departure of the big arenas and the loss of the big final five tourney at the Excel.  The new WCHA finals will probably be at someplace central like the Resch Center in Green Bay with 1/3 of the revenue generated at the Excel.  Add travel to BGSU for the UP/MN teams and Huntsville probably becomes a serious problem.  I think the new WCHA probably would love to have Hunstville, but can’t afford them.  NCHC are too full of themselves to ever consider taking Huntsville and the eastern leagues are full.  I’m afraid I don’t see a happy ending for Huntsville unless they offer to cover travel expenses for conference games.

    • JamesDee

      College hockey will never expand. Fifty nine teams or less is the future.

  • Yooper

    If the NCAA is interested in seeing college hockey grow (such as in the south and
    southeast), then here’s the opportunity.  If the NCAA intervenes in some way to allow UAH to compete then perhaps other future hockey teams may emerge in that area.  It’s a long way down the road, but hey – who can dissagree that college hockey is one of the  most exciting competitions ever.  And its still innocent in the sense that those big time schools who insist that their team has to win will shovel money and gifts under the table to the players, like they do in football. Travel costs would certainly be mitigated if more teams (like NMU) would dump football and elevate their hockey programs.  I like what UNO did

    • JamesDee

      College hockey in non traditional markets never will take off.

      Northern Arizona and United International couldnt field a team for along time.

      A league invitation needs to be done soon or the Chargers will fold.

      • B.D.

        Agree, attempting to put a team in an area that does not already value hockey is a waste of time.

        I am pleasantly surprised that UAH has kept going this long.  For those who have never been to Huntsville Alabama it is a wonderfully cosmopolitan enclave of highly educated people.  Pretty much an island of such in northern Alabama

  • JamesDee

    Rumor is the WCHA could become a sixteen team league. The nine wcha teams with the addition of WMU and Bowling Green, four AHA teams, and UAH.

    With this scene they could be split the league in two. Western and Eastern with eight teams in each league.

    Let the tradition and stability continue  with the great WCHA for 2013-2014.