Friday Focus: Athletics matters

Chancellor Dan White
UAF photo by JR Ancheta
Chancellor Dan White

May 27, 2022

— By Dan White, chancellor

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with Tod Leiweke, President and CEO of the Seattle Kraken. Mr. Leiweke gave me a tour of the new Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle and we discussed potential opportunities that lie ahead for a partnership between the Seattle Kraken and the Alaska Nanooks. He asked me why I support athletics. My response was simple. Because it matters. It doesn’t matter a little. It matters a lot. It matters to the athletes and their families, and importantly, it matters to our future as a university. Why?

Athletics builds community. Not just our community of Fairbanks or the community of Alaska. Athletics builds a community of friends, supporters, allies, and future students.

People love competition, they want to belong and they want to feel pride for “their” team. Athletics offers them all three. Every season Notre Dame fills their stadium with close to 100,000 fans yelling “Go Irish!” in unison. Everyone in Texas knows the symbol for “Hook’em Horns” the slogan of support for University of Texas Athletics. While they are cheering on a men’s football team, a women’s basketball team or the co-ed rifle team, they are lifting up the school. Lifting the school lifts its programs. It attracts positive attention whether they win or lose. When UAF competes in the Carlson Center, people chant “U-A-F.” Now that’s “community,” and that lifts up all of UAF.

When UAF’s men’s basketball team won the Great Northwest Athletics Conference and then went to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA D2 tournament, people from all over the country were rooting for UAF. It was amazing. It’s good for UAF and for our athletes, but it’s also good for academics and research because people were Googling UAF to learn more. In a world crowded with social media, the competition for eyes and ears is fierce. Athletics remains a place where people are drawn to be a member of a “team,” a member of “UAF’s team.”

The following universities like Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan have, for example, is astounding. There is a fierce allegiance to Ohio State from people all over Ohio who never went to OSU. They love the sport and love what their OSU football team represents. A victory for the Buckeyes, especially against their main rival, the Michigan Wolverines, is a victory for millions of people in Ohio, only a fraction of whom are alums. I think this love fills OSU classrooms.

We don’t have Alabama or Ohio State football, but we don’t have to. We’re Alaska’s team. There are no professional NHL, or WNBA franchises in Alaska. Alum or not, people come to UAF to watch athletes compete and every kid growing up watching UAF teams gets connected to UAF. Every fan attending a UAF game at home or on the road, gets connected to UAF. And every person who clicked on ESPN to watch Alaska Nanooks Connor Mylymok in SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays or watched the seven “active duty” Nanooks cagers defy the odds in the NCAA tournament became connected to UAF. When students are considering UAF, the chances of them answering our call is higher if they’ve heard of us. 

After men’s hockey was eliminated at UAA, the Seattle Kraken and its leadership team stepped up to support the program. That was a big deal for UAA and it played no small part in UAA getting its hockey program back. Great hockey in the State of Alaska relies on great competition and connections in and beyond our great state. A partnership between the Kraken, the Nanooks and the Seawolves bodes well for our future. Nanook hockey builds visibility for our university across the country, and importantly, in our main recruiting area, the Pacific Northwest. Athletics makes UAF a household name and being a household name has paid dividends for universities across the country.We are working with the Seattle Kraken to have our hockey team play a few games in their arena. It is an impressive arena and one that will focus big time attention on the Alaska Nanooks. Thanks to Mr. Leiweke, and our athletics staff for this partnership. 

There is so much more good ahead for all of UAF’s athletic teams, whether it is our recent success in skiing, cross country, rifle, volleyball, swimming, basketball or hockey. 

Athletics matters.

Thanks for choosing UAF.

Friday Focus is written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.