Field fights to help save UAA skiing 

Program in limbo as university faces massive budget cuts

click to enlarge PHOTO BY SAM WASSON - Charley's challenge Charley Field is looking to help save the University of Alaska Anchorage skiing program.
  • Photo by Sam Wasson
  • Charley's challenge Charley Field is looking to help save the University of Alaska Anchorage skiing program.

Even though Charley Field will have a year of eligibility left after the coming National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) season wraps, she might end up calling it a career.

It's not the 21-year-old's preferred option, but with major budget cuts facing the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), the Seawolves ski program may be on the chopping block.

In June, state legislators approved cutting $15 million from the University of Alaska system, which includes both the Anchorage and Fairbanks outposts. According to a UAA athletics department release on Oct. 27, the department is slated for a 20-per-cent decrease in budget, valued at roughly $1.9 million, beginning next fall.

The university has submitted a waiver request to the NCAA Division II Membership board to reduce its number of teams from 13 to nine with men's and women's skiing and men's and women's indoor track and field announced as the programs to be axed. Currently, Division II schools must sponsor at least five teams for men and five for women, or four for men and six for women, with two team sports offered for each sex. Skiing is not considered a team sport for those purposes.

The committee is expected to reach a decision by Nov. 11. The UAA release states if the waiver is not approved, the university will reduce the number of teams to 10 and find other ways of meeting its budget.

Athletes in sports that are cut will be kept on scholarship until the spring of 2018, according to the release, while the university said it would do whatever possible to help student-athletes opting to transfer to another school.

Field, a health sciences major who recorded a 4.0 GPA last season and helped the team to a record-high 3.24 GPA, said she'd have to weigh both parts of the student-athlete role to decide what's best for her.

"For me, (cutting the team) would mean probably finding a new school, which I'm not sure yet if it's what I want to do because of how far I am already in my degree," she said. "Transferring is actually pretty difficult with how many credits and classes would transfer into the new school, so for me, I'd really have to see if I want to take that one year and hopefully see how my credits would transfer."

Field said though budget cuts were looming in the spring, it appeared as though skiing would be safe as higher-budget sports like hockey seemed to be most likely to go according to local reports.

"It came as a big, big surprise. We knew that it (budget cuts) was going on but not until we really got here in September was it really like an 'Oh my gosh, you guys are looking at maybe being cut' (situation)," she said. "A lot of us didn't do anything to plan for this, and you can't really, because the future's so far ahead.

"We got a text from our coaches at 10 or 10:30 (a.m.) and they're like 'You need to be in a meeting at 1... You cannot miss it. You can skip classes,'" she recalled. "Our athletic director told us about being cut and what they were going to say to the press and they were saying that to the press... an hour later."'

While Field acknowledged skiing may not be a marquee NCAA sport, it's one she said makes sense to keep in Alaska.

"You're depleting a not-so-popular sport, but a popular sport in a winter state. It's the only outdoor sport that's actually here at UAA and it's incredible that they would want to cut a team that inspires young athletes to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and want to come compete for such an amazing university," she said.

Field points supporters to www.savealaskaskiing.com and a Change.org petition urging the NCAA Division II committee to prevent the team from being cut from the roster. As of Nov. 9, the petition had received over 4,900 signatures, just short of its goal of 5,000.

Field, a Pemberton Secondary School grad, is set to begin her third year with the team. After a best result of sixth in giant slalom in Colorado last year, she's looking to jump just a couple spots onto the podium as she enters her junior year.

Pique emailed questions to UAA athletic director Keith Hackett, as requested by the athletic department, on Nov. 7. Hackett responded the next day, explaining his department has little flexibility.

"Of the 13 teams, seven were initially protected. Five of the teams were our GNAC Conference required teams for membership. The other two teams were our Division 1 Hockey and Gymnastics Teams. What remained as potential teams to be eliminated were our two Indoor Track Teams and our Men's and Women's Nordic/Alpine Teams," Hackett wrote.

While things might look bleak for the ski team at this juncture, Hackett said the outpouring of support for the ski team will be taken into consideration if there are opportunities to weigh other options.

"I think there are always positive impacts that can be made by any constituent group. Yes, there is still a chance to make a difference by voicing support for all the teams that have been impacted by this budget situation. However, the one thing that will remain a constant is that our athletic department budget is going to be reduced in a significant way beginning in the fall of 2017," he wrote.

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