For the first time in 20 years, a DI-A college football program has been shut down with little reason given—but blame & rumors abound.
The numbers don’t add up.
That’s the official reason that the administration at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has given for its plans to chloroform its Division I-A football, bowling and rifle sports programs at the end of their current respective seasons.
In a press release issued earlier this week, the college stated that it had hired an outside firm— CarrSports Consulting—to assist in the college’s analysis and planning.
The college goes on to state that its findings and decision to cancel the three aforementioned programs was based solely on cost, as seen in the following excerpt:
Although UAB has a vibrant athletic heritage, the Athletic Department faces many challenges given the rapidly evolving NCAA landscape and soaring operating costs, which place extreme pressure and a growing financial burden on programs like UAB’s. Costs are continuously spiraling upwards driven by cost-of-attendance payments to players, meals, equipment, facilities, coaches, travel and more.
Specifically, the college noted a need for an additional $49 million over the next five years just to keep the UAB Blazers football program solvent.
One of the ironies is that the UAB Boosters had pledged to raise enough funds to close that fiscal shortfall to keep the program in place.
For whatever reason, the college administration chose not to go that route—despite the fact that this season marked the first time that UAB has been eligible for a post-season bowl bid in more than a decade.
Instead, the college has agreed to pay more than $2 million as reimbursement and cancellation fees for lost ticket, parking and concessions revenue to other college football teams it was supposed to play. UAB will also pay its contractual $500 thousand per year salary with the current UAB head football coach through 2016.
Additionally, UAB said it will honor its scholarship commitments to affected athletes and allow transfers from the school to play immediately in other programs.
But that was cold comfort to the dozens of UAB football players who had vocal, impassioned words directed at UAB college President Ray L. Watts when he told them the program was being shut down in the accompanying video–that gets very emotional starting at 1:20.
There are many rumors surrounding the UAB decision to end football, which focus on the assertion that the Alabama state athletic board of trustees that has ultimate jurisdiction over the program buckled to pressure from its members that have strong ties to NCAA football juggernaut program—Crimson Tide—at the University of Alabama.
It’s tough to prove those types of wild rumors, rumors that don’t make much sense since UAB and Alabama are in different conferences and don’t play each other; however, the rationale to end UAB’s fully-funded football program makes even less sense than the ‘Bama rumor.
In a valiant effort to spin the bad news, UAB asserts in the press release that its other athletic programs will benefit from this “right-sizing” exercise.
In eliminating football, UAB will be better positioned to invest in programs where the institution can be sustainably competitive on a conference and even national level. Funds from discontinued programs will be redirected to more fully support UAB’s priority sports and build those into championship programs.
Despite the promise of redistributed wealth to other programs, it’s uncertain how successful those programs will be going forward.
The only certainty is that there was enough money from UAB boosters to keep the UAB football program alive, and there’s likely to be enough blame to heap on those who killed UAB football going forward.