UAF Basketball programs respond to seasons being canceled
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -In a late Friday afternoon press conference last week, the University of Alaska Fairbanks administration elected to opt-out of the upcoming hockey and basketball seasons due to growing concern of the COVID-19 pandemic. UAF had previously decided to opt-in to those seasons, which did not guarantee they play, but left the door open to compete if they felt it was safe to do so. On Friday, the final day of the academic semester, UAF administrators did not feel it was safe enough to play.
The men’s program was set to begin their season on the road at Seattle Pacific University on January 15. About a month prior to tip-off, the team learned they will not get a chance to hit the court this season.
“It has been a rough year for them, there were just so many unknowns,” said men’s head coach Greg Sparling. “Safety and health of the student-athletes has got to come first. I mean, there is a lot of stuff going on, not just in athletics, but in the world with this. Until we get a better feel on it, I support what the administration is doing.”
The team held their final practice and the players have parted ways for the holidays, something student-athletes that compete winter sports do not get to experience very often.
“It is much needed time, there is no if, ands or buts about it,” Sparling added. “Where we are located in Fairbanks, we are not at Seattle Pacific or Western Oregon where you can jump in a car or have your family come visit you. It is a little more challenging for our guys so that is why I have let them go so early, because I know they needed it.
The Nanook men’s basketball program is coming off their best season in four years, reaching the semifinals of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament. With a number of talented returners to go with a number of intriguing transfers, the men’s team was poised to make some noise in the Division II landscape. After the opt-in last month, Sparling saw efforts by UAF administration to at least explore having a season.
“It showed a lot of dedication and support for athletics,” said Sparling of the opt-in. “That is not always the case at a lot of universities.
The women’s basketball program shared the unwanted news that came Friday as their season was also called off. The men’s and women’s teams were prepared to compete in a 12-game, GNAC-only schedule with Seattle Pacific, Saint Martin’s and Northwest Nazarene.
“It is hard because everybody wants to compete, the student-athletes and the coaches,” said women’s head coach Kerri Nakamoto. “But I just have to have faith in our administration just knowing that they made the right decision and in the best interest of our student-athletes.”
Due to the uncertainty surrounding the season, Nakamoto prepared her players for news that none of them wanted to hear.
“I had communicated with them that something was going to shake through. They’re disappointed, they all wanted to play, but they also understand the risks and everything associated with that.” Nakamoto said.
For both teams, it is up to the players whether they want to return to campus in the spring for classes and individual workouts. While all players involved will retain a year of eligibility, this does open the door for players to transfer out if they so choose.
Since the decision was made on Friday, the university has been unyielding in their choice, despite resiliency from programs. Just hours after the administration made the decision final, the hockey program started a petition to have their season reinstated. Before the petition closed over the weekend, it had garnered 2,756 signatures.
Although their 2020-21 season is over before it started, the hockey team is still getting involved in the community. Their annual teddy bear toss won’t be taking place at intermission of a game this year, but rather as a drop-off service. Players and staff will be outside of the Patty Ice Arena on campus Saturday from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. to collect stuffed animals for children during the holidays. For those who cannot toss their teddy bear in person, the Nanooks are asking fans to consider donating to Santa’s Helpers Alaska.
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