Is Pack poised to bring back skiing as DI sport? A glimmer of hope

The University of Nevada will officially merge with Sierra Nevada University on July 1, and with it comes the potential the Wolf Pack could again become a Division I skiing program.

Sierra Nevada University, which is located in Incline, even closer to world-class skiing than Reno, will officially have its athletics programs shuttered after the merger, according to an FAQ posted on UNR’s website about the unification.

“The decision to discontinue SNU intercollegiate athletic programs was based upon UNR’s ability to remain compliant with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 in both intercollegiate and competitive club athletic programs,” the site reads. “The ultimate penalty for non-compliance with Title IX regulations is the withdrawal of all federal funds, including monies earmarked for student loans among other funds. This would impact all 20,000 students currently enrolled at the University of Nevada, Reno.”

Current SNU students who participate in athletics are being asked to join Nevada’s club sport teams or attempt to walk on to the Wolf Pack NCAA-sanctioned squads. Among the sports SNU offers are alpine skiing, cross country running, freeskiing, golf, lacrosse, snowboard and soccer. And while Nevada currently does not have a Division I ski team, it does have a club sport ski team. The merger with SNU provides a glimmer of hope the Wolf Pack could again sponsor men’s and women’s skiing at the NCAA level.

The FAQ on UNR’s website about the merger poses the question, “Is it true that UNR is pursuing NCAA Division I Alpine skiing?”

“As a result of the acquisition and in honor of the sports legacies at both institutions, UNR has expressed its intent to pursue NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Alpine Skiing,” the website reads. “NCAA does not currently include team designations for snowboard or freeski sports. SNU Alpine skiers who meet NCAA eligibility requirements will be encouraged to compete for a spot on the women’s and men’s teams. UNR is working with the NCAA to determine when UNR can begin its first year of competition and to make all of the necessary adjustments to remain in Title IX compliance.”

Nevada Sports Net reached out to the Wolf Pack athletic department in an attempt to set up an interview with somebody in the department about the potentiality of sponsoring skiing at the DI level. A Nevada spokesperson said the FAQ page is the university and athletic department’s current statement on potentially adding skiing.

The Wolf Pack is currently in search of an athletic director to replace Doug Knuth, who was fired in late April. The department is being run by active AD Bill Johnson, the school’s VP of advancement. The Wolf Pack’s next AD will likely take a big role in tackling the feasibility of adding skiing as a DI program, a sport Nevada sponsored at the highest level until 2010 when it was eliminated in the middle of the Great Recession, which led to major cuts in the Wolf Pack’s state-appropriated funds.

That move to cut skiing as a DI sport saved the Wolf Pack $400,000 annually, so reincorporating skiing above the club level would likely add around half a million dollars to Nevada’s operating budget, a major expense considering the Wolf Pack has run a fiscal year deficit in eight of its last 12 seasons and owes the university around $5.9 million in accrued debt (and that doesn’t include the roughly $18.25 million of debt the university covered for athletics in recent years).

The Wolf Pack has a proud history in skiing, including three national champions, those being Katerina Hanusova (a three-time champ in cross country skiing) as well as Pat Myers (Nevada’s first national champ in 1954, earning gold in downhill) and Tommi Viirret (the 2002 giant slalom winner). The Wolf Pack’s five individual national titles ranks tied for 13th in NCAA history. It has had 11 All Americans in skiing. Nevada’s highest team finish in its NCAA history is fifth (in 1960 and 1962). It finished 11th in 2010, its final season of competition. The Wolf Pack also hosted the NCAA championships in 1954 and 2004.

Nevada is currently at the DI minimum in men’s sports with six. It is one above the DI minimum in women’s sports, sponsoring nine teams (counting indoor and outdoor track and field as separate sports). Nevada last made a change in its sponsored sports after the 2018-19 season when it dropped rifle as a DI sport and added men’s cross country. At the time, Knuth said the lack of schools sponsoring rifle as a DI sport played a part in the decision. Nevada was one of 23 DI rifle teams.

There are currently 10 DI schools that sponsor skiing, with an additional seven at the D-II level and 13 at the D-III level. In college skiing, those teams compete against each other while following their division-level rules, giving the NCAA 30 schools at the top level of the sport (some only compete in Alpine while others only compete in Nordic).

Sierra Nevada College and the University of Nevada both actively compete in a lower level of college skiing, akin to club sports. Both are a part of the USCSA’s Northern California division along with Sac State, Stanford, Cal-Berkeley and UC Davis.

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