SAN DIEGO — Ten years of college hockey in San Diego ended Friday afternoon when U.S. International University Athletic Director Al Palmiotto and Coach Brad Buetow told players that the Gulls would no longer field a team.
The announcement was made after Buetow, 37, accepted the coaching job at Colorado College Friday morning.
Palmiotto said the inability to form a conference consisting of Western teams and the costs associated with travel were the primary factors in the decision to discontinue hockey as an intercollegiate sport.
"When every game is 2,000 miles away we are just beating our heads against the wall," Palmiotto said. "It wasn't just economics by itself. We wanted to buy some time to convince other schools to join us. The problem is, time ran out on us.
"The first five years were to establish the program," Palmiotto said. "The last five years we've been struggling to show we could make a conference go and that it would work economically."
USIU and Buetow were instrumental in forming the Great West Hockey Conference for the 1985-86 season, Buetow's first at USIU. The conference consisted of USIU, Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks and Northern Arizona.
Northern Arizona dropped its program after the first year because its arena was in disrepair, and the athletic department could not afford to fix it.
USIU tried to get several Western schools--including USC, UCLA and Arizona--to get NCAA sanctioning and join the conference.
"That's were the economic point comes in," Palmiotto said. "It's too bad, we don't have a choice. If I could have proven to the USIU president (Dr. William Rust) that there was still a possibility of forming a league with schools close by, then I would have explored that."
Buetow coached three seasons at USIU, finishing with a record of 62-43 and one GWHC title. He had previously coached for 10 years at the University of Minnesota, six as head coach when he had a 171-75-8 record.
He came to USIU after he was fired from his job at Minnesota. Buetow never said what the reasons for his firing were, saying that he took the USIU job because he wanted the challenge of building a program from scratch.
He found that challenge in a USIU program that had won 24 games the three previous years, including records of 7-23-2 in 1984-85 and 4-31-2 in 1983-84.
Buetow is going into a similar situation with Colorado College, 4-31-1 this season as a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Assn., the same league to which Minnesota belongs.
"(Colorado College) offered a very attractive package--the security, making a bigger commitment," Buetow said. "It's going to be a challenge over there; it's going to be similar to when I came to USIU."
Buetow cited the inability to get area schools interested in hockey and the economic struggle to keep the program going as reasons for leaving.
"With the location and lack of schools around here and not owning our own rink, it has been a constant struggle," Buetow said. "We were disappointed we weren't able to attract Division I teams from the area such as USC and UCLA. The last three years, there were many, many hours working on that."
Palmiotto said the majority of schools he contacted cited costs as the reason for not considering moving their club hockey programs to the NCAA level.
Perhaps the biggest blow for the program, the only NCAA team west of the Rockies in the continental United States, was being ignored by the NCAA for a post-season berth this past season.
USIU (23-13) was one of the main instigators in convincing the NCAA to expand the hockey championships to include a guaranteed berth to an independent school. Last season was the first year the independent berth was offered.
USIU and Merrimack College were the two candidates. The playoff committee selected Merrimack, citing its better overall record, despite the fact that Merrimack primarily played a Division II schedule and that USIU, a Division I team, defeated Merrimack twice during the season.
"We made some major strides, and I hate to see that stop. I wish the program could have gone on," Buetow said. "I don't feel like I'm running out on anybody. We stayed longer than we had originally anticipated. When I came here, I signed a two-year contract. I wanted to build the program, and I thought we had laid a good foundation.
"We didn't know how far or how fast the program would go. Maybe it was at the wrong time, the wrong place. I don't know."
Year W L T Pct. 1978-79 20 6 1 .760 1979-80 24 8 2 .735 1980-81 16 13 0 .552 1981-82 18 12 0 .600 1982-83 13 17 2 .438 1983-84 4 31 2 .135 1984-85 7 23 2 .250 1985-86 20 13 0 .606 1986-87 19 17 0 .528 1987-88 23 13 0 .639 Totals 164 153 9 .517