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.