The University of Alabama in Huntsville announced Friday, May 22, that it is discontinuing its men’s hockey program effective immediately.
The school cited “enormous challenges” created by the coronavirus pandemic in its announcement. The university is also cutting its men’s and women’s tennis programs, among other measures taken to address budget concerns caused by the pandemic.
“These actions are the necessary result of intensive review and discussion about where we can make adjustments that protect our current financial condition with the least possible disruption to our central mission – education, research and service to the community,” university president Darren Dawson and athletic director Cade Smith said in a statement.
The Chargers’ future was already uncertain after seven of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s 10 schools announced last summer that they would leave the conference following the 2020-21 season to create a new league.
UAH, Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks were excluded from the new conference. All three schools are geographic outliers in a league mostly centered around the Upper Midwest and each has had its share of budget concerns in recent years.
“We are deeply saddened by today’s news that Alabama Huntsville has eliminated its men’s ice hockey program. UAH has been a valued member of the WCHA since joining the league in 2013 and, as the first Division I hockey school in the Deep South, brought the sport to a previously untapped fan base for college hockey,” WCHA men’s commissioner Bill Robertson said in a statement. “We want to wish all the best to UAH head coach Mike Corbett, his assistant coaches, support staff and the Charger players affected by this decision and hope to see all of them at new schools in time for the 2020-21 season.
“Lastly, I know this was a difficult decision for UAH President Dr. Darren Dawson and Director of Athletics Dr. Cade Smith, but one that was made with thoughtful and thorough review of the ramifications for the university and the student-athletes and coaches it is affecting.”
Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said he was shocked when he heard the news from Corbett around noon Friday.
“He didn’t see it coming, and obviously it’s something that you never think about,” Serratore said. “These are tough times right now and there’s so many things going on during this crisis, and sports has really been affected by it as well.”
“You feel for everybody,” Serratore continued. “There’s so many people who are affected by these decisions right here.”
Alabama Huntsville was set to play its final season in the WCHA in 2020-21, though the league is now down to nine programs. The Chargers’ departure will necessitate scheduling changes, not to mention the other challenges conferences face amid the pandemic.
This isn’t the first time the program has been discontinued.
The UAH hockey program nearly folded in 2011 when the university’s then-interim president canceled the program, only for it to be restored two months later when the newly-hired president reversed the decision. The brief cancellation was due to financial concerns and lack of a conference after College Hockey America had disbanded following the 2009-10 season.
The Chargers spent three seasons as an independent before joining the WCHA in 2013. The program was a Division I independent from 1987-92, moved down to D-II for six seasons, and again ascended to D-I beginning in 1998. The program started at the club level in 1979.
Bemidji State and Alabama Huntsville shared quite the rivalry over the years, peaking in the 1990s when the programs clashed in the Division II finals in four out of five seasons, splitting the meetings at two national titles apiece. The schools then became conference rivals in Division I for the better part of 20 years as members of the CHA and WCHA.
UAH announced plans last year to build a new multi-sport arena the hockey team would call home.
The university said it will honor the scholarships of players from the affected programs. Any athletes seeking to join another program will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately.
The most recent Division I men’s hockey program to fold was Wayne State (Mich.) in 2008.
Alabama Huntsville’s departure leaves NCAA Division I men’s hockey at 60 programs, including Long Island University, which recently announced it will aim to begin play in time for the 2020-21 season.