Sunday, October 23, 2011
Media sources in Alabama have been saying that the University of Alabama-Huntsville is all but ready to announce on Monday that it will be dropping men's ice hockey as an NCAA Division I sport at the end of the 2011-12 campaign:
Thirty years of tradition down the proverbial drain. A sad day for UAH and especially for college hockey.
I wrote about the Chargers' predicament for USCHO.com back in August when the program was on the chopping block. I wasn't able to talk with UAH interim president Malcolm Portera on the phone, but he did send me the following e-mail message:
"I have no comment to make about the hockey program at UAH. The harsh economic realities that face all of higher education have motivated us to look at our entire athletic program. We are in the process of doing this. I am sorry, but this isn't an appropriate time to be commenting."
Two months later, and just one week before Portera steps down, and the UAH hockey program is gone - or at least, downgraded from varsity to club status. For all intents and purposes, that's being dropped.
I was working at Montclair State University several years ago when several NCAA Division III sports were (temporarily) downgraded to club status, including wrestling and men's lacrosse. Practically none of the MSU student-athletes welcomed the change in status - no one looked forward to competing against club teams, after facing off with other schools at the intercollegiate level.
It won't be any different at UAH, despite what some administrators are saying or even believing. Playing Alabama or Tennessee at the club hockey level will be nowhere near the same as facing off against Michigan or Michigan State in an NCAA Division I contest.
Division I hockey isn't an inexpensive endeavor, and the Chargers didn't draw huge crowds to the Von Braun Center, which was a neat facility when I visited it many years ago for a two-game series as a part of the Alaska Fairbanks entourage. The Huntsville fans were very much into the games, too, and UAH really had something unique going as the self-proclaimed "Hockey Capital of the South."
For a few more months, anyway. Like Fairfield, Findlay, Iona, Illinois-Chicago, Kent and Wayne State before it, Alabama-Huntsville (1979-2012) deserved a better fate.