So long UAH hockey; Now let’s point some fingers

After two years of trying to fight the good fight, Alabama-Huntsville hockey will be no more after this season.

Oh sure, interim school president and Alabama education hitman Malcolm Stopera will say that moving UAH hockey from Division I down to club level isn’t a big deal because there’ll still be hockey at UAH in some form, but this a needless killing and one that leaves a lot of blood on a lot of different hands in the college hockey world. The Alabama education system can justify their decision citing costs all they want to, but college hockey on the whole should feel sick about this as should the UAH leadership.

This wasn’t just one new conference coming to rise and writing UAH’s death warrant, this was a total failure on the part of college hockey world to help out a weakened brother. This is the fault of a hired gun brought into the UAH leadership to make the big decision and get the hell out of town as fast as possible.

This was a hired hit and one that the leaders of the CCHA, WCHA, NCHC, and Big 10 all helped bring about.

The CCHA’s failure to throw UAH a bone years ago when they added now-soon-to-depart Nebraska-Omaha to the conference was the first, and most deadly, shot across the bow for the Chargers. Tom Anastos and his group of ignorant conference leaders, who got their own come-uppances when the Big 10 Conference was formed, helped provide the example of how to ruin a school’s program. By leaving UAH to be independents, a team without a conference to call home, they left them to perish.

Here’s to hoping that Anastos, now the Michigan State head coach, can live with his decision. Of course, he comes out smelling like a dead rose through all of this mess after ditching the CCHA to coach Sparty who is conveniently ditching the CCHA themselves for the Big 10. Convenient, eh?

The conference realignment jumble, confusing in its own right in seeing the WCHA and CCHA try to save face after the Big 10 was formed and then seeing their own plans shot to pieces when the NCHC was created putting a final bullet in the CCHA and turning the WCHA into a conference filled with also-rans. Neither the NCHC nor the soon-to-be brand new WCHA even cast a glance toward UAH for membership.

Rather than help out UAH, the NCHC waited to see if Notre Dame would join their elitist hockey party only to be spurned in favor of Hockey East. An Irish middle finger is a middle finger nonetheless. The WCHA took on fellow death bed program Bowling Green in their scramble to put something that resembled a conference together. Did they call UAH though? No friggin’ way.

Instead, they ignored UAH. They let them sit around as an independent left to wither away and die without the help of a conference to call home and a conference schedule to give them a host of home dates. Take a look at UAH’s schedule for this, their now final season. The last games they play in Huntsville are in late February against the US National Development Team. Games like that are an exhibition meant to show the school off to guys they could potentially recruit.

Oops.

Instead, they’re going out at home with a whimper after a schedule that sees them play on the road in games they had to beg and plead for to play anyhow. This is what the college hockey landscape turned into – one that saw schools turn on each other to save their own skin and left the weakest of the litter out to starve.

Now these Chargers are being put down while a bunch of different hands are pushing off pulling the trigger on everyone else.

It’s sad. It’s sad and disgusting to see things play out this way for the south’s lone outpost for college hockey; A program that rose up from the lower levels of college hockey to become the little school in Dixie that could. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament, they’ve put the scare into top seeds (just ask Notre Dame about what they think of UAH).

Community and student support (both in showing up and financially) didn’t matter to the state of Alabama. All this was for them was a bottom line move, a correction of the books. College hockey, meanwhile, looks the other way while another one of their own dies. A family of 58 is now a family of 57 and there won’t be a single team that will care. The fans of college hockey all care and they’ll make it known at the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida in April. It’s a bitter pill to swallow that it’s UAH playing the role of the host school, holding the celebration for the crowning of a new champion.

A disgusting end to UAH’s Division-I status concludes with a party on their grave.  While I doubt that Portera gives half a crap about his choice to demote the program, I wonder if the heads of these conferences that all had a hand in this slow killing can accept losing a team in an outpost where hockey is growing in a sport that needs a higher profile, not one that sees it let its hurting brothers die.

13 thoughts on “So long UAH hockey; Now let’s point some fingers”

  1. This was a great article. I cannot tell you how clueless this administration was. They approached the SECHC Conference, the ACHA Division 3 conference made up of club teams from the SEC to see if they could join. Last I checked, UAH is not an SEC school….can they be that ignorant?
    It was explicitly spelled out to them that club hockey in the south takes pride in the fact that UAH was D1 and we would never do anything to assist in its demise. I doubt this Tuscaloosa hatchet man even considered that UAH is the host team in Tampa. It seemed weird when the Naval Academy, an ACHA D1 school hosted in DC in 09…….to have a D3 club team host is pathetic!

  2. You’d think that after all these years you’d have found a way to become less ignorant. But nope.

  3. Since when is a collegiate hockey conference a charitable organization? It’s sad to see UAH die, but putting the blame at the feet of the other conferences is ridiculous. They had no duty to look out for the interests of a hockey program that brought little to the table.

  4. I completely agree that this was a hatchet job. But we must point the finger even further back. There was so much to fix and the board members took no action. 1) UAH needed its own rink on Campus, they had to pay rent and share the revenues with the VBC (City Arena). 2) When Doug Ross retired he was forced out with no replacement in mind. Thus recruiting suffered and he left the team in terrible shape. 3) You don’t have a big power hitter on the board (like a Bryant) thus the PhD types want more research money instead of sports programs. Joe Ritch is there, but he has fought for so long I fear he has run out of fuel (he needed help 10 years ago). 4) Letting the budget geeks frame the numbers in such a way to disadvantage the program. Of course DI sports require a lot of money, just read about the BCS or Forbes will tell you about the money involved. This resulted from no one on the board being familiar with how to run DI Sports program. So to sum it up, the board is just as guilty and this derp wad Dr. Malcolm Portera.

  5. I sang the anthem at nearly every UAH home game for 3 seasons and learned about the game from every player to step onto the ice, as well as the announcers who called the plays and even the refs who called the penalties. I learned about the game from the coach & each player he brought to the weekly Coaches’ Show I produced. I know how others have commented about this story, but I agree with you 10000%, Joe. College Hockey and the other conference let this happen, sending a good program right into the toilet.

  6. There are so many pieces to the puzzle when it comes to collegiate athletics. It’s complicated and worthy of thousands of pages. No way it can be covered fairly in anything less than a full report from all sides. Lacking that, I’ll just speak to one area, and with a story.

    My college is in a Division 1 non-football conference. Until 2004, we had football. We had no rivals (playing all games out of the conference). No drawing power. No fair competition. We did have 40+ students on large scholarships, 5+ full time coaches, large facilities, and enormous travel expenses. We were a tiny fish in an unfriendly pond (football isn’t a huge thing here, save for the big boy over in Berkeley). Football made absolutely no sense for us beyond nostalgia or emotions. It was ineffective. It was a drain. It was unfair to the athletes. They had no fair and appropriate competition. Getting creamed by Boise State wasn’t helpful for anyone. The other schools didn’t appreciate the huge amount of money and time and inconvenience to come to our home games, either. It hurt THEIR students and athletes. After many years of this, the president made the unpopular decision to cut football. Alums screamed, harkening back to the glory Sugar Bowl days of the 1940s. The (admittedly small) group of students who went to games was hurt. The players were hurt (though they were invited to stay and finish their academic careers with their scholarships, many left to play elsewhere because, well, they were football players and wanted to play). But overall, it was the best decision made by what is probably the worst president we ever had. (good riddance)

    The two biggest sports on campus now are basketball and rugby. The basketball team has made a splash nationally the last few years, thanks in part to the cash infusion into all sports following the disbanding of football. They are also helped by the fact that they play in-division, more locally, and against rivals. Rugby is a club sport, sustained largely by donors and fundraising. They are competitive, popular, fun, and cost-effective. Whereas we were flying football to play schools in Idaho or Texas we don’t have history with or care about, basketball hits the west coast rivals, mostly teams within 600 miles (2 teams within 50 miles). Rugby car pools over to Stanford or UCB, with booster club not far behind (they also fund raise for the big annual trip; my senior year i think it was New Zealand. Last year was just up to Vancouver). Club sport or not, rugby is a campus institution.

    These two sports are everything football wasn’t, and it is through no fault of the sport or the school. It was the context in which football found itself in a marketplace that wasn’t conducive to its viability. It sucks, and it hurts. Those feelings should never in anyway be dismissed. It is the largest negative to any change, sometimes even large enough to cancel out positives (thus the reason NCAA athletics have been status quo for so long and the reason we kept football 10 years longer than we should have). But in the end, it is not personal or necessarily negligent. It is the framework in which college operate. Like all businesses, it is ugly, unfair and brutal. Sometimes bad decisions are bad, but sometimes they are just hard decisions.

    P.S. Buck the Froncos!

  7. So does “the south’s lone outpost for college hockey” plan on winning a game or?….

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