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Smarting under criticism, UAA amends its Shootout airfare program

Suzanna Caldwell

The University of Alaska Anchorage athletic department backpedaled Monday after its "Fan Flight Frenzy" program ran into an outpouring of opposition.

Initially, the program offered free roundtrip airfare to 1,500 Alaskans with the purchase of a $127 ticket package to the Carrs Safeway Great Alaska Shootout that happens in late November in Anchorage.

Last year Gov. Sean Parnell approved a $2 million subsidy to support the Shootout, which has seen declining participation by top Division I basketball programs over the past few years. The appropriation has a variety of uses attached -- including increasing game guarantees for other teams, strengthening partnerships, contract negotiations for national television coverage, advertising and the airfare program -- to be used over the next three years.

There was no public review of the appropriation, and criticism flowed once the details became public.

The program became an embarrassment to some legislators who told Fairbanks Daily News-Miner columnist Dermot Cole they did not know that free airfare was part of the deal they approved a year ago. Cole scrutinized the appropriation in a column, calling for University of Alaska President Pat Gambel to put a "stop to this waste of state money."

Under the changes announced Monday, fans' total bill will be about $100 more. Alaskans wishing to travel from the rural hubs of Barrow, Bethel, Cordova, Dillingham, Fairbanks, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, King Salmon, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Nome, Petersburg, Sitka, Valdez, Wrangell and Yakutat to the Shootout can purchase a $230 Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout ticket package, which includes roundtrip airfare.

"Our goal was to find a solution that addressed the concerns of the public while still honoring the intent of the appropriation," said UAA Chancellor Tom Case said in a press release.