UAF will not compete in hockey, basketball this year

Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 7:30 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The University of Alaska Fairbanks administration announced Friday the decision to opt-out of the upcoming seasons for hockey, as well as men’s and women’s basketball due to COVID-19 concerns.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has not gotten better, it’s gotten worse,” said UAF Chancellor Dan White during a media availability Friday. “The health and safety of our student-athletes is paramount. A concern of ours, of course, is if a student becomes COVID-positive in a community that isn’t here, it’s challenging for us to fly that student back.”

Another factor that contributed to the decision was that teams within UAF’s conferences expressed concerns of traveling to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Less than a month ago, UAF elected to opt-in to both the hockey and basketball seasons. The opt-ins did not guarantee Alaska would participate in the upcoming seasons, but it did leave the door open to competition if they felt they could do so safely.

The UAF Hockey season was scheduled to begin January 1 on the road against Lake Superior State in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. According to head coach Erik Largen, the team was blindsided by the decision.

“It’s sad the way it was announced, it’s sad the way that it was done and we want to continue to play, we think that we can do it safely,” said Largen after the decision. “I guess to allow for some teams to travel and some teams to not travel doesn’t seem very equitable to me.”

In November, the Alaska Nanooks rifle program travelled to Memphis, Tennessee and Oxford, Mississippi to compete in four matches.

The Nanook hockey program has not lost hope and have created a petition to have their season reinstated shortly after the university’s decision. The petition was set up by senior hockey student-athlete Justin Young.

“The cancellation came with no notice and no consideration of the staff or players,” said Young in the petition description. “This decision goes beyond just hockey, it impacts our mental health. We sacrifice and work our whole lives to play the game we love and taking it away affects not only our season but our personal well-being.”

After exhausting all options, including being hosted by another school, UAF Administration made the ultimate decision to not participate in hockey or men’s and women’s basketball this year.

“Guys are sad, I mean there’s a lot of tears that were in the locker room after we had that conversation,” said Largen. “We’re going to continue to practice here, we’re hoping our administration has a change of heart. I don’t think that this decision is based off of anything very logical to be honest with you.

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The men’s basketball season was set to begin January 15 at Seattle Pacific University, while the women’s team was scheduled to host the Falcons the same day.

While student-athletes will not be competing, their scholarships will remain in place so that they can continue their studies, according to a UAF press release. Under NCAA rules established during the pandemic, student athletes’ eligibility will be extended by a year so they are still able to compete for a full four years.

UAF is still hoping that teams in lower-risk, non-contact sports like rifle, swimming and cross-country skiing will be able to complete their seasons.

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