UAA arena to be called Alaska Airlines Center

The new on-campus sports arena at the University of Alaska Anchorage will be known as the Alaska Airlines Center.

University officials announced the naming rights for the new arena Thursday after the Seattle-based airline pledged $6.3 million over the next 10 years.

"We are proud to honor Alaska Airlines' historical and future financial commitment to UAA by naming our newest facility the Alaska Airlines Center," UAA Chancellor Tom Case said in a statement.

A majority of the Alaska Airlines pledge, $5.3 million, will be for travel sponsorships for UAA. The other $1 million will be used to endow a new scholarship for Seawolf student athletes.

The athletic budget at the Division II UAA is $8 million a year, and $1.6 million of that is for travel.

UAA spends nearly three times more on travel than a Division II program in the Lower 48 spends, athletic director Dr. Steve Cobb said.

Beyond contests with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, UAA athletes have to travel to the Lower 48 for every away game.

The average athlete at UAA flies nearly 26,000 miles annually.

"Most college athletes never fly in their career," Cobb said. "We fly everywhere."

He said only UAF and Hawaii have similar situations.

"We've been flying young athletes to their away games for decades and understand how much high school and college-level sports are part of the fabric of the state's communities," Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines' regional vice president in the state of Alaska, said in a statement.

Case and Romano unveiled a sign announcing the arena's new name during a short ceremony at the construction site Thursday afternoon. Champagne bottles were broken against a concrete pillar of the building.

The scholarship endowment is expected to provide about $40,000 in aid annually. Cobb said that should benefit six or seven students.

The $40,000 would be equal to about three full-time scholarships annually, but Cobb said most student athletes at UAA already receive scholarships equal to nearly half their tuition costs.

The new $109 million arena will seat 5,600 people.

Cobb joked that he hoped Seawolves' opponents would come to know the arena by another name — "pit of despair."

Besides UAA athletic contests, school officials say the arena will be home to college and high school graduations, community events and concerts.

Cobb said the school's annual basketball tournament, the Great Alaska Shootout, will still be played this year at the larger Sullivan Arena. The location for the 2014 Shootout is undecided, he said.

03/25/2013 - 4:37am