HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — In May 2020, The University of Alabama in Huntsville announced its plans to discontinue the men's ice hockey program as one of several cost-saving measures forced by the financial uncertainties associated with COVID-19. Through a grassroots effort led by alumni and fans, UAH Hockey received $750,000 in private philanthropic support to extend the program for the 2020-2021 season as UAH worked to secure membership in an NCAA Division I hockey conference. Conference membership is a vital component of a sustainable funding model, making it a requirement for the continuation of the UAH hockey program.
UAH officials and former UAH Hockey All-Americans Taso Sofikitis and Sheldon Wolitski, leaders of the alumni group that provided private funds to support the 2020-2021 season, agreed that the university would discontinue its hockey program if unable to secure a conference home by this spring.
As of May 5, 2021, UAH has not secured a conference home for the upcoming season, and therefore must suspend its hockey operations, effective immediately. If UAH ultimately secures conference membership, it plans to promptly reinstate its hockey program. However, UAH will not be eligible for conference play for at least one year upon receiving a conference invitation.
"We have been inspired by the unwavering support we have received from our UAH alumni and our community, and that inspiration has driven our tenacious efforts to secure a conference home, which is the foundational element of a successful and sustainable hockey program," said UAH President Darren Dawson. "Despite our hard work, UAH has not received an invitation for conference membership, and thus we must unfortunately suspend our hockey program. This is in the best interest of our student-athletes and staff."
In collaboration with the alumni group and with guidance from UAH's Hockey Advisory Board, the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) were identified as potential home conferences that would provide for a long-term, sustainable hockey program. UAH subsequently submitted proposals to AHA and CCHA for consideration. The CCHA did not accept UAH's proposal, and AHA has yet to formally respond to UAH's proposal.
The timing of this announcement gives UAH student-athletes the opportunity to transfer and play at another institution amidst the uncertainty of the program's future at UAH. Student-athletes who would like to join another institution's roster will be released without penalty and are free to transfer immediately. For student-athletes on the men's hockey team who wish to complete their education at UAH, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of the students' academic careers.
"I am endlessly grateful for our outstanding hockey student-athletes and staff, who chose to compete for UAH, despite an uncertain future, and made lasting contributions to our athletics program," said UAH Athletic Director Cade Smith. "I also am appreciative for the unyielding support of the alumni group – especially Taso and Sheldon, who have been generous with their time and financial support as we have worked tirelessly to secure a conference membership invitation."
UAH will continue to advocate for conference membership, which is required for the long-term continuation of the men's hockey program.
"Although the suspension means that the 2021 – 2022 season will not occur, I want to be very clear that this is not the end of UAH Hockey and, in fact, could be an opportunity for a new beginning. Taso and I have worked diligently with UAH administration, including Dr. Dawson, to develop a plan outlining UAH's effort to secure conference membership," said Wolitski. "If we achieve entry into a new conference, our multi-year, sustainable funding model will serve as the foundation of a reinvigorated UAH hockey program."