Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Andrew Kastning.
Supporters of #savealaskaskiing have won a tentative victory, as the NCAA’s decision not to take any action on the University of Alaska’s waiver request has significantly changed the university’s options heading into today’s Board of Regents meeting.
University of Alaska (UA) President Jim Johnsen said in a press release, “As a result of this nonresponse from the NCAA, I will recommend to the Board of Regents that we not reduce teams at this time. Similarly, given the complexity associated with the consortium option as discussed with the Regents, I will recommend against pursuing that option at this time as well.”
The NCAA Division II Membership Committee had met in Indianapolis on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. In order to cut skiing at either Alaska university, the committee would have had to approve the UA waiver request, which sought to bring the number of teams at both the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) below the NCAA-required minimum threshold of 10 teams per school. The Board of Regents would then have to recommend eliminating skiing at either or both schools.
But the NCAA declined to reach the university’s waiver request, apparently because UA was making a request that was in some way hypothetical or too early. (In legal terms, the waiver request was not yet ripe for consideration.) The problem, in the NCAA’s eyes, was that UA was seeking permission to drop below 10 teams before it actually did so.
As Johnsen wrote in the press release, “the NCAA responded” to the waiver request by “saying that it was neither approving nor denying the university’s request. Rather it declined to take any action at all. The NCAA’s response indicated that it would consider a waiver request only after the university reduced the number of teams below the 10-team minimum. We know that such a step would risk a wide variety of financial and programmatic NCAA sanctions.”
As a result of these implications, Johnsen wrote, he would recommend to the Board of Regents that either team reduction or a consortium model not be pursued at this time.
Johnsen’s proposed alternative seemed to acknowledge the strength and volume of support from the recent #savealaskaskiing movement.
“Instead of those options” of team reduction or a consortium model, Johnsen continued, “I will suggest we tap into the large outpouring of support from our student athletes, our communities and our alumni. It is clear that the ski community strongly supports the programs at UAA and UAF. Of course, much depends on our future budget. But given the volume of voices of support for athletics and the passion of their arguments, we will recommend instead to engage with these supporters to invite and encourage their financial support for the athletic programs they value so much.”
“It is clear that the ski community strongly supports the programs at UAA and UAF. Of course, much depends on our future budget.” — University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen
Johnsen concluded, “I look forward to a full conversation about this approach with the Board of Regents today, and I am confident we will find an appropriate way forward.”
The Board of Regents meeting began in Fairbanks on Thursday morning, and continues through Thursday and Friday.
The meeting began with the President’s Report first thing on Thursday morning. Skiing supporters currently attending the Board of Regents meeting told FasterSkier, in a paraphrase of Johnsen’s remarks, that the UA President had specifically mentioned the strong outpouring of support from the nordic skiing community, and had explicitly stated that he did not recommend dropping skiing at this time.
UAF head nordic coach Nick Crawford is pleased.
Crawford wrote to FasterSkier, “We received great news today that the University of Alaska administration is not pursuing elimination of sports teams at either UAF or UAA at this time. While the NCAA did not formerly deny the waiver request to drop below 10 sports as we had hoped, their non-action appears to have the same result of maintaining a full sports program here at UAF. If the athletic department drops below the 10 sport minimum the NCAA would likely issue sanctions that would harm all of our sports ranging from reduced scholarship limits, financial penalties and bans on postseason play. With the strong outcry of support from our ski community, it’s clear that the University administration now values collegiate skiing in Alaska much more than it previously did!”
Crawford continued, in reference to the groundswell of support for #savealaskaskiing, “I’ve been overwhelmed with the support for our teams from cross country ski enthusiasts from across the state, country and globe! We’ve always known collegiate skiing in Alaska has had a strong base of support but it’s been incredibly moving over the last two weeks to see everyone coming out to support us in so many different ways! I would like to personally thank the Alaskan and United States skiing community for all of their efforts thus far!”
UAA head nordic coach Andrew Kastning sounded similar notes of relief and gratitude.
As Kastning wrote to FasterSkier, “We are very happy with the announcement to reverse the decision made a few weeks ago and can begin to breathe life into the future of our ski team. We had over 5,000 people sign the petition and who knows how many call and write the Board of Regents. That kind of reaction was impossible to ignore the best possible outcome for the near future has been made. I’m sure we will be tasked with tapping into all the vocal support we’ve garnered to help fund our program which is something I believe we can do given the amazing response we’ve received from all over the skiing world. I can’t thank these people enough, today’s announcement wouldn’t be possible without them.”
Gavin Kentch is a lifelong Alaskan. He skis with the Alaska Pacific University Masters team in Anchorage, plays with his two adorable daughters, and occasionally works as a solo attorney. He has a cat named Marit. He was probably on snow this year before you were.