College Hockey:
Citing finances, Alabama-Huntsville will drop hockey to club status

Alabama-Huntsville’s time as a Division I program is coming to an end, and a school administrator is citing finances as a reason.

The 2011-12 season will be the Chargers’ final one as a varsity program, the school announced Monday. It will revert to a club program next season.

The news was initially reported by The Huntsville Times, which said Chargers coach Chris Luongo informed the team of the development Sunday night.

Interim school president Malcolm Portera met with the players Monday morning.

“In this economic environment universities must examine the value of every dollar we spend, and we must view every option to use those funds for the betterment of the entire campus,” Portera said in a statement issued to the school community. “The cost savings from this move will allow the university to enhance the operating budgets of the other 15 sports on campus, provide more student aid to a greater number of student-athletes, and, at the same time, enable us to increase our investment in high-demand academic programs to better position UAHuntsville for future growth.”

Luongo told the paper he hoped to meet with his players before they got the news from Portera.

“I don’t think it’s possible to be blindsided by a meeting [Monday] morning, but I’d rather be the one doing the blindsiding than someone who’s not there on their behalf,” Luongo told the paper.

Alabama-Huntsville is in its second season as an independent after the dissolution of the CHA following the 2009-10 season, one in which it made the NCAA tournament as the league’s final tournament champion.

The Chargers started play in 1979 as a club team and made the move to NCAA Division II in 1986, winning national championships at that level in 1996 and 1998.

The NCAA eliminated the Division II championship in 1998, making Alabama-Huntsville play a Division I schedule.

The Chargers joined the CHA in 1999 and won two regular season titles and made Division I NCAA tournament appearances in 2007 and 2010 as the league’s tournament champion.

When it became apparent last summer that the program’s future was in jeopardy, a group formed a grassroots effort to raise money needed to fund the program in the face of budget shortages.

“The community supported the Chargers for years and made their desire for a Division I program abundantly clear. We feel for those fans and especially the players, coaches and staff in the Charger program,” College Hockey Inc. executive director Paul Kelly said in a statement. “To see the support of that fanbase and the efforts of the program and its passionate alumni dismissed seems shortsighted and unfair.”

Alabama-Huntsville is 0-7-1 this season after going 4-26-2 in the 2010-11 season. It is averaging 1,546 fans per game in six home games so far this season, ranking 35th of 46 schools that have played a home game. The average is 268 better than last season’s 1,278, which ranked 49th.

Following is Portera’s statement, addressed to the Alabama-Huntsville community:

I want to share with you a decision that has been made following months of careful study. As a result of a financial analysis of our athletic program, and numerous conversations I have had with athletic directors, university presidents and commissioners of Division I ice hockey programs, it has become obvious that, for the best interest of this university, our athletic department and the ice hockey program, we move the team from the Division I level back to its original classification as a club sport at the end of the 2011-2012 season.

In this economic environment universities must examine the value of every dollar we spend, and we must view every option to use those funds for the betterment of the entire campus. The cost savings from this move will allow the university to enhance the operating budgets of the other 15 sports on campus, provide more student aid to a greater number of student-athletes, and, at the same time, enable us to increase our investment in high-demand academic programs to better position UAHuntsville for future growth.

I met with the players and coaches this morning to pledge the university’s full assistance to the student-athletes participating in our ice hockey program. We will continue to honor the scholarship commitment made to these students, and if a student-athlete chooses to transfer to another program, we will provide help in making that relocation as seamless as possible. Coaches will remain on our staff through May 31, 2012, and the university will assist them in their endeavors to seek future employment.

Charger ice hockey will very much remain a part of the culture of this university and the community. However, the opportunity to save the hockey program is much improved by reverting to a club team status. We appreciate the understanding of the campus, the university’s athletic supporters and the community, and we look forward to a robust hockey presence in the years to come.

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  • LtPowers

    This is a ridiculous travesty.  Surely the program isn’t losing significant money?

    • uahuntsvillestudent

      The program actually had plenty of financial support.  Over 500,000 dollars was raised by one group alone in just 5 days.  All this was dismissed.  It is a shame.

  • Chris

    Real shame to lose a D1 program…

  • fangers

    It’s not about money, as the financial concerns raised were met by the alumni and community.  Besides, this same guy approved a $75m football stadium for UA-Birmingham football team that looses more $ annually than it costs total for the UAH hockey program.  And the UAB football team has less success at the DI level than the UAH hockey and has little fan support.

    • BrianB

      Yes they were losing some money especially since being forced to become an independent.  However, the new football stadium that this bozo supports for UAB  would fund UAH hockey for nearly 100 years.  By the way UAH hockey attendance regularly exceeds UAB football attendance and UAB football has zero tradition.

      • UAB Fan

        Please do not make this an issue regarding UAB.  UAB has fought for years to make its own decisions regarding the support and finance of athletics, especially for football. UAB football and men’s basketball are both generating money for UAB athletics, but it is the other D-I teams UAB fields that take a toll on their yearly budget.  UAB and UAH athletic budgets are not linked in any way, shape, or form.  Also, do not confuse revenue-generating capital expenditures (stadium) with non-revenue generating scholarships, salaries, and travel expenses of a team.

        UAB fans feel the pain of UAH and hope you continue to fight for your team.

  • Anonymous

    UAH, once known for hockey and bat**** crazy biology teachers will now be known only for bat**** crazy biology teachers.

  • BeaverHockey

    Being a Bemidji State fan, I can honestly say that I will miss the “Who Hates Huntsville?  We hate Huntsville” chant.  It’s never good when you lose teams.  I will be attending the series against the Beavers in December and I will applaud the Chargers when they leave the ice.  Thanks for the many years of memories.

  • Stuey

    Portera has a history of cutting and denying funds to UAH. This is just another way for him to ‘focus on UAT’ as opposed to thinking outside himself.

  • Anonymous

    As someone who went through Iona College shutting down its program in 2003, this is yet another sad day for college hockey.

  • Spanky

    Good riddance…..Now I don’t have to hear about the how some conference needs to give UAH a home everytime there is a realignment story. Maybe UAH should field a varsity ski team…that makes about as much sense as hockey is Alabama.

    • Mike

      Stupid comment

    • Anonymous

      Because expanding the game beyond its traditional borders would be such a travesty right?

    • FrozenFourFan

      Foolish comment.  The more hockey expands, the better off all of the progams are.  In my opinion, you are not a true hockey fan.  I feel bad for those in Huntsville and for the true NCAA hockey fans everywhere.

  • EazieCheeze
  • Iowabasedtraveler

    As Billy Kwan said in ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’,  “What then must we do?  We must vow that this does not happen to another program suffering the same pains as UAH.” 

  • Guest

    I can understand that D-I hockey isn’t a cheap sport, and that UAH is a bit off the beaten path for most other schools; but dropping a program with more than 30 years tradition shouldn’t be left up to the whims of an outgoing interim president who won’t be around to take the slings and arrows a la Art Modell.

    Go Chargers – for a few more months, anyway.

    • Fast Walk to Fresno

      To be precise, it’s been twenty-five years that they’ve been an NCAA varsity team, not “more than thirty.” They were club team prior to 1986 and they will revert to that status. Still, that’s about twenty years longer than most people expected they would last. I give them credit, but it was a novelty experiment, just like Bettman putting hockey in Phoenix, Nashville, etc. Good for them for sticking it out this long, but they were always playing with house money and sooner or later the streak was going to have to come to an end. 

      Face it, folks… this is the future. NCAA hockey is not a lucrative sport and more and more schools will be looking for ways to trim budgets in this Second Great Depression that America finds itself mired in for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alaska-Fairbanks, Canisius, Niagara, Mercyhurst, Robert Morris, Quinnipiac, Bentley, and Nebraska-Omaha follow suit in coming years. When the Big Ten gets off the ground, I think the stronger schools in Atlantic Hockey will fill the vacated spots in the WCHA and CCHA (as well as adding the needed 12th spot in Hockey East to balance out the addition of Notre Dame), and Atlantic Hockey will collapse.

      The future of DI hockey is in the traditional programs, with future growth coming from large DI-A schools with overlap in hockey conferences, the prime example being Penn State and the new Big Ten conference. If they have the interest, it would be much easier for schools like Illinois or Northwestern to support DI hockey than many of the Atlantic Hockey schools. Sorry, but it’s just reality.

      • Mike

        This is even more stupid

      • Mike

        Where did you come up with this list of teams?  Did you pull it out of your arse?

        • Fast Walk to Fresno

          My, what a lucid, articulate, and detailed post. I thought I was on YouTube for a moment. The list, while slightly off the top of my head at the time, is based on the fact that I’ve been involved with athletics and higher education for over twenty years. If you don’t see the commonality among those schools, you clearly know nothing about the trends in college sports in general, let alone hockey and I wouldn’t even know where to start in explaining it to you. Why don’t you tell us why you think any one of those programs is viable in the long-term? I’d be glad to rebut any specific point you make about any of those programs being stable with specifics. But, shadow-boxing with trolls is a pointless exercise. 

          • Mike

            Sorry but its not reality.  It is your stupid thoughts in a post.  I’d be shocked if those schools didn’t have hockey and Northwestern and Illinois did.

          • Mike

            I guess in your case I’ll just use the saying “In the land of the blind … the one eyed Troll is king”

          • Anonymous

            And at what point did those 20 years of experience lead you to believe that Nebraska Omaha, a school that recently cut its football program and intends to turn college hockey into is marquee sport, will “follow suit within the next couple years?”

            The future of college hockey is a bleak one if its fanbase is content to watch the same 58 (soon to be 57) teams run the same campaign year in and year out.  Hockey in general, not just college hockey, is trending towards more diversity. The San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks pack the stands every night, the Tampa Bay Lightning are legitimate cup contenders, while Rocco Grimaldi, arguably the most talented rookie in the WCHA, is a product of California.

            The success of college hockey is directly tied to the spread of the game itself, and as more and more kids outside of our traditional markets are exposed to the game we’ll begin to see more schools consider it a viable option.  We’re already drawing top-tier prospects from non-traditional markets, how long before a few schools decide that they’d like players like Grimaldi and his peers to play a bit closer to home?

  • Anonymous

    This is a real shame and a sad day for any college hockey fan. First of all, I don’t understand why an interim president is making such a long-lasting decision.  I’m not close to the situation, but it seems like this is a personal vendetta for him.  Also, and again this is from an outside perspective, it seems like the university has failed the program for years by never building an on-campus rink for the team.  I have never been to the Von Braun Center, but big off-campus arenas that you can only partially fill in addition to having to compete with other teams and activities just don’t work for most college teams.  You can talk to anyone who lives in the Chicago area like I do what moving to the Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) did for DePaul basketball.  There is just not a substitute for playing on your campus in a cozy arena that is packed with your fellow students.  UAH had nearly 30 years to make this happen and didn’t.  There isn’t a better sport than college hockey, but it’s also a sport in which a college or university needs to make a 100% commitment to being successful.  It just doesn’t sound like this was the case there which is too bad.

  • JamesDee

    This is proof that college hockey cant last in non traditional places like San Diego California, Northern Arizona and Alabama Huntsiville.

    College hockey is meant to played in states like Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, New York and Massachusetts. Not in Alabama, Arizona and California.

    • UAH FAN

      Try telling that to the folks in Norman Ok, the Sooners have a very successfull club
      program that draws well.

  • Joe

    Probably related to the insane anti-immigrant law the state passed recently. Obviously designed to keep the Canadians out. Think of all the players who have been spared having to spend time in Alabama, and all the visiting teams that will never have to set foot in that ass-backward state again.

  • Robert8_fun

    I hope UAH can get this decision reversed. College hockey has schools in the north, west and east of the country but UAH is the only one in the south.

  • Guest

    Talk about a brutal schedule! UAH plays 17 of its final 21 games on the road before ending the regular season against the U18 team. Honestly, against whom is UAH going to post a win? I hope the team can grab a win over either Ohio State or Mercyhurst because apart from that it looks like a really tough year for the team. Good luck to the players as this looks like a difficult way to end a varsity level program.

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