WAFF Investigates: Who's paying for UAH hockey? - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF Investigates: Who's paying for UAH hockey?

Since UAH is the southernmost school in their conference, travel costs can be high. (Source: WAFF) Since UAH is the southernmost school in their conference, travel costs can be high. (Source: WAFF)

The University of Alabama in Huntsville hockey team just returned from a nearly 2,000 mile trip after two conference away games at Northern Michigan University.

The Charger hockey team chartered a bus from Huntsville to Marquette, Michigan and back. The trip isn't the farthest conference away game they play this season.

Next month, the team takes on Alaska Fairbanks, a city just south of the Arctic Circle. The team regularly charters buses and flies commercially at a pretty hefty price tag. That raises the question: Are you, the taxpayer, on the hook for those costs?

The University of Alabama in Huntsville has a 35 year hockey history. The team boasts multiple national titles, but they nearly became history a few years ago when the sport had conference realignment and the Chargers were left out in the cold having to play as an independent. The status nearly folded the program.

The saving grace came 13 months later when the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, or WCHA, extended UAH a conference invitation in January of 2013.

"We're the southern most school in the WCHA,” said UAH hockey head coach Mike Corbett. “Our travel is extensive. We have to embrace it.”

And embracing it they are, along with the major pull it's exerting on the school's bank account. According to the school, UAH spent more than $250,000 on travel costs alone last season. That's nearly 20 percent of the team's $1.4 million budget. When you look at who else makes up the WCHA, it's easy to see why. The 10-team conference includes two teams in Alaska and multiple teams in Minnesota. In fact, the Chargers' closest away game is 562 miles away from Huntsville in Bowling Green, Ohio.

"We're committed to hockey, and we're committed to division one hockey,” said UAH spokesperson Ray Garner. “In order to do that we understood travel was going to be a big part of that. We're good with that."

We caught up with the team in late October as they jumped on a plane at 5 a.m. from Huntsville to Dallas and then Minneapolis. From there, the team chartered a bus from Minneapolis to Mankato, Minnesota, again, all for two conference games. So who was on the hook for that trip?

"Every public university with the exception of the flagship universities all provide funds for their athletic programs," said Garner.

In other words taxpayers fund those public universities. But the school is quick to point out tax payers aren't entirely on the hook for trips to Minnesota or Alaska. In fact, boosters raised more $127,000 to offset the team's travel costs.

"People go, well this is a team that won two games last year. Is it worth doing?" said Geoffrey Morris. Morris is a UAH alumnus. He's also given the team a few thousand dollars to help out the program.

"There are a lot of people that know who we are, that we even exist in the system, because we have a hockey program," said Morris.

Alabama and Auburn have top football programs. UAH leaders say hockey is one of their ways to market the school, and it's not going away, no matter the cost.

"We're trying to recruit the best students in the world and in the nation to Huntsville. One aspect and one strategy to get them here is improving their student life. Athletics plays a major part in a high quality student life,” said Garner.

The school has taken a recent financial hit, too. According to a recent report, the state has cut a little less than 40 percent from the higher education budget in the last five years

To look up the finances that go into nearly every college and university you can click here.

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