USCHO’s Jimmy Connelly reported Friday afternoon that Alabama-Huntsville was dropping its men’s ice hockey program in the wake of potential losses of revenue related to COVID-19.
Multiple sources have confirmed that @UAHChargers will announce today it is dropping the men’s hockey program effective immediately. Not major surprise given the prospect of being without a league next yr. & financial impacts of the pandemic. Still, sad day for @collegehockey.— Jimmy Connelly (@jimmyconnelly) May 22, 2020
As far as we can tell, this is the first program cut in Division I college hockey, but it is the latest in a number of program cuts across the country.
Alabama-Huntsville was always an oddity in collegiate hockey. The program entered Division I play in 1998 after playing jump rope with Division II and Division I previously. In a part of the country where club hockey has led the way in the growth of the college game, Alabama-Huntsville was the only varsity program in the Southeast, and one of two in the Sun Belt, so travel costs were always going to make the program’s survival difficult, and the COVID-19 outbreak was unfortunately the nail in the coffin.
This is a reality that collegiate sports fans across the country need to confront right now: programs are going to be cut in the wake of this pandemic. It’s small programs like Alabama-Huntsville hockey, or Furman baseball and lacrosse, or Bowling Green baseball now, but this pandemic has the potential to affect collegiate sports to its very core if revenues are, in fact, significantly lower come the fall. Collegiate hockey programs that compete at the Division I level while the rest of the department competes at Division III might become an expense that becomes unjustifiable. Smaller, lesser known programs may be cut in the name of protecting departments country-wide. And that says nothing for the reality that, if we’re in a position in August and September that it is unsafe for students to return to campuses nationwide, depressed revenues across higher education may lead to more school closures than we have now.
Now, this all may be for naught. We still do not know what the virus is going to do, and come August and September it might be safe for students to return, and revenues, while depleted, may be enough for programs to live to fight another day. But programs are shuttering all around us now. This is a problem gripping the collegiate athletics community now, and I can say with reasonable confidence that we have not seen the last of programs cut nationwide in the wake of this pandemic.
The reality that athletic directors across the country may have to make some hard choices soon isn’t going away, and they, along with people in and around collegiate athletics, need to be ready.