This is what I know about hockey: that there’s a puck and a net involved and that on the handful of games that I have attended, I can’t keep track of when the puck goes into the net. I know that the people at those games know more than I do, and I know that many of them are die hard, committed hockey fans.
I also know that in Alaska, there are many of those die hard, committed hockey fans and I’m told that there used to be a lot more of them, particularly at UAA Seawolf games.
The seats used to be filled I’m told. Now, when you go to the Sullivan Arena to watch a Seawolf game, only about a third of the seats are filled. I’m here to tell you that it’s kind of a drag to be at a game that you don’t know much about without being surrounded by a crowd that does and can signal when to cheer, when to hiss and when to tell the ref that he sucks.
Unless things change and the crowds get bigger, I won’t go back.
Many, including the person with whom I am currently involved, are blaming the athletic director Steve Cobb for the Seawolf’s continuing decline on the ice and the subsequent lack of enthusiasm in that arena. Many are calling on UAA Chancellor Tom Case to fire Cobb.
Recently, long pent-up frustration among former and would-be Seawolf fans found a vent in the search for a new hockey coach. (Read more about that here and here). I may not know where the puck is, but I do know steam when I see it, and this was a gusher.
It was enough of a gusher that the Alaska State Hockey Association recently issued a vote of no confidence in Cobb. The following Sunday, the UAA Hockey Alumni Association issued their own resolution. About 40 men sat in a small room in an ice rink in South Anchorage on Sunday, working on the resolution. Many of them are fathers with busy lives. Many had never written or even spoke the word, “whereas.” Many of them spent the better part of their 20s bleeding for the Seawolves, and none of them took that resolution lightly.
They thought they could change things.
They were apparently under the assumption that an institution for which they fundraised and were a part of, an institution paid for out of their state funds, cared about them and their passions.
They thought they mattered.
The responses that they and others have received from the university make it very clear that they don’t.
I don’t know if Cobb should be fired, but I do know a few things about communication and I know in a been-there-done-that-way how to alienate a whole group of people. The university has been successful, at least at that.
I know that UAA’s response to the situation has been a PR failure, from one liners responding to heartfelt letters, to an arrogant “no comment” from Cobb in the Anchorage Daily News about the alumni resolution, to the very anemic and very late invitation the university sent out to a select few in the hockey community asking them to be involved in the search for the new hockey coach. (Say nothing about the silence surrounding the allegation of an assault and the cover up of the assault involving the former hockey coach and a student player. It’s the best known secret in the hockey community. Case, here’s a head’s up: it will come out eventually and it won’t be pretty.)
And then on Friday was Case’s incomprehensible and inadequate defense of Cobb’s job as athletic director in the ADN.
Bradford Keithley writes better than I ever could here about the possible financial implications of UAA’s disastrous response, implications that might have real impact.
Legislators are talking. Headlines are screaming. Talk shows are buzzing. And now, normal, average people, people like me who don’t know a thing about hockey, are wondering how the university can continue to go to the people with hands and fingers out while being so insensitive and non-responsive to the people.
The university is, after all, a very well funded state school. And if there is anything to the owner state philosophy—and I believe there is—Alaskans own the university as much as the oil.
The 40 some guys who sat in that room on a Sunday trying to make their voices heard should matter as much, if not more than one arrogant, chain smoking athletic director. They should even matter as much, if not more, than a chancellor who appears hell-bent on keeping him in cigarettes, while hockey goes up in smoke.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org