Is this the end to UAH hockey, once and for all? Some may seem to think it is, but I’m not so sure.
There’s a lot of understandable anger out there because of the university’s decision to suspend the hockey program for the 2021-22 season while it continues trying to secure a conference home.
It would be easy to use this column to rant and rave, but I’m more sad than angry. And I don’t think this was some underhanded plot to kill the program for good.
The announcement to suspend was made with top alumni donors and advisory board members Sheldon Wolitski and Taso Sofikitis, who made it clear that this isn’t giving up. They are disappointed, sure, but I didn’t get the sense that they were angry at athletics director Cade Smith and president Darren Dawson, or that they were left out of the discussions leading up to this.
The situation is complicated, with many moving parts (and people).
UAH got caught in a time crunch when it came to finding that league home. A deadline of March 1 was set in which they were to make a decision on the next season, and it passed without a conference invite.
The CCHA had told UAH early that it wasn’t interested. That has left the currently only viable option, Atlantic Hockey.
They extended the deadline by two months, and still do not have an answer from Atlantic Hockey. Now it’s May, and the student-athletes need to know now whether to stay or go.
The way things are going, it will at least the middle of summer before we know for sure if UAH is joining Atlantic. You could wait until then to make a decision, but then you’re asking the players to take a risk that there will be a roster spot waiting for them elsewhere if the answer is no.
The NCAA transfer portal is a traffic jam right now. Teams are picking up transfers right now. UAH had two players coming before the decision. That’s why David Fessenden and Quinn Green were proactive in going into the portal.
That’s the bind UAH found itself in.
Meanwhile, Atlantic Hockey is not obliged to rush a decision for UAH’s sake. The powers that be in Atlantic understand how important their decision will be to the continued existence of the program. They have seen over the last year the support given to UAH to keep going. But they have to look out for the 11 teams that are in their league right now. Getting through this past season during the pandemic didn’t help.
UAH’s offer of $25,000 per series that Atlantic teams come to Huntsville is very generous. It shows that the university is serious.
However, the concerns that Cade Smith said have been brought up to him are valid. UAH is not in the geographical footprint of Atlantic Hockey (or any other conference), and the Northeast-based AHA already has an outlier in Colorado (Air Force).
There are also the concerns about UAH’s recent history. To be blunt, UAH blew it in the WCHA under former athletic director E.J. Brophy. The program was never promoted or given the proper resources needed to build a contender, and it showed.
These questions also have potential answers. With 12 (or more) teams, Atlantic Hockey can creatively schedule so that no one in the core Northeast has to visit Alabama and Colorado in the same season, or have divisions. And the last year has shown that there are better people running the show.
Was suspending the program for next season the correct decision? Could UAH have played as an independent this fall?
Playing as an independent next season only works if we know that UAH going into a conference, and we won’t know that for a while yet. And then, you’re asking the student-athletes to risk their playing status by waiting past the time when most teams have roster spots open.
Obviously, suspending the program has its own risks. If UAH does get in Atlantic, the roster would have to be rebuilt from scratch again, although this time there would be something to sell. And of course, the public backlash.
I feel for the current Chargers. While making this decision now maximizes the opportunities for the student-athletes to play next season, those who really want to stay will have to do so knowing they won’t be playing hockey (unless playing on the UAH club team is allowed).
But UAH has made its decision, and it wasn’t taken lightly. The ship that is UAH hockey is at the mercy of the college hockey winds right now. Let’s just hope it makes it to the other side intact.