The WCHA, a 10-team conference that will lose seven teams to the new CCHA after the 2020-21 season, is losing another one. Alaska Anchorage announced Wednesday that it is dropping its men’s hockey program after the upcoming season, citing a severe drop in state funding.
That leaves only Alaska (Fairbanks) as a committed WCHA member for 2021-22. Alabama Huntsville in May announced it was dropping men’s hockey but reversed course after a grassroots fundraising push saved the team to play in the 2020-21 season. The Chargers are trying to play past the 2020-21 season, but that isn’t guaranteed, WCHA Commissioner Bill Robertson said.
“I’m very concerned about the future of the men’s WCHA,” said Robertson, whose conference is slated to play its 69th season in 2020-21. “But what I have to concern myself with right now is this year and looking at what the future looks like.”
Robertson is working to keep the WCHA a viable conference past this season but will need at least four programs to join to get to six members, the number needed for a league to receive an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
He has been in discussions with Arizona State and Long Island, both Division I independent programs, along with the club programs at Lindenwood (Mo.) and Liberty (Va.) and Simon Fraser, which plays in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League and has played NCAA teams
“It’s a monumental challenge but something I’ve been working on while I’m trying to work through a pandemic and all the activities for all 10 schools,” Robertson said. He added: “I will give a 100 percent effort to continue to cultivate keeping the WCHA alive and well for the future.”
The teams that are leaving the WCHA following the 2020-21 season are Minnesota State Mankato, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan.
Alaska Anchorage also is eliminating three other programs — men’s and women’s skiing and women’s gymnastics. The moves are expected to save the university about $2.5 million per year.
“I’ve been in constant contact with [athletic director] Greg Myford, and he’s informed me of all the challenges they’re facing,” Robertson said. “The decision coming today is a bit of a surprise, but it is not a surprise overall. I knew this potentially could be coming.”
Alaska’s other Division I men’s program, Alaska (Fairbanks), is not planning to drop hockey or any other sport, Chancellor Dan White said.
“I want to reassure our Alaska Nanooks student-athletes, parents, coaches, and the UAF and Fairbanks community that UAF’s athletics programs are not part of this recommendation,” White said in a statement. “UAF has 10 Division I and II sports, the minimum number allowed by the NCAA, and has no plans to reduce them.