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Penn State Hockey: Alaska Anchorage Budget Crisis A Reminder Of How Lucky Nittany Lions Are

by on November 10, 2016 1:50 PM

At times it can be hard to remember how the rest of the world lives.

“It’s something when you come in everyday, to a facility like this, you might start to take it for granted,” said senior Dylan Richard reflecting on the very existence of Pegula Ice Area.

It's hard to blame Richard, Penn State athletics operates in one of the richest conference in college sports, and in turn the facilities are some of the best in the nation. The ones that aren't are likely a part of an incoming master plan that will reshape the face of campus. So as Penn State climbs up the college hockey rankings everything might seem normal.

But this weekend's series against Alaska Anchorage is a reminder that not everyone has it so easy. In Anchorage this past summer the athletic department nearly cut the hockey program and others from the books as the university dealt with a budget crisis. The state as a whole facing a 13.2 budget hole thank in large part to volatility in the oil markets. The department faced a $1.7 million budget cut from state funding, nearly a third of the money the athletic department gets from the state, 16% of the overall athletics budget.

So choices had to be made.

As this weekend and this season might indicate, Alaska Anchorage didn't end up cutting hockey or any of its athletic programs, but the knife was still so precariously near the throat. For Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky it was a great relief to hear that news. Gadowsky himself not far removed from having been head coach at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a program that nearly faced the same threat.

“I know how much hockey means to people in that state,” Gadowsky said. “I would feel terrible if Division-I hockey was taken away from them, they love it.”

College hockey as a whole seems to be facing its own identity crisis as it tries to muscle itself into the minds of college fans. The Big Ten's creation has given the sport a much-needed seat at the NCAA table, but underwhelming TV numbers on the Big Ten Network and low postseason attendance figures at neutral sites have done little to increase in the flow of money into the sport.

Penn State itself is fortunate, the hockey program is one of the three profit generating sports on campus, but due in large part to Pegula Ice Arena having been paid off in full at the outset. Smaller would-be programs lacking big potential donors don't have that luxury and so building a program is a multi-year financial burden.  

“It’s my hope that as there’s success at Penn State, hopefully Arizona State [the Sun Devils turned Division I this year] and the Big Ten, I’m hoping other bigger athletic departments jump in and the profile of hockey grows,” Gadowsky added. “And when that happens, that would be good for everyone.”

If that happens remains to be seen, but for now a visiting Alaska Anchorage team is reminder enough of how lucky the Nittany Lions truly are.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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