UAB Termination: The “Numbers” Don’t Add Up

Assuming you have had your head above ground this week, you have seen the gut-wrenching story of the immediate cancellation of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s football program. The Blazers are the first FBS team to shut down their program since Pacific in 1995. For some perspective, 21 universities have started an FBS program since that time.

People like to view college athletics as some sort of cash cow operation. Truthfully, that isn’t quite the case – at least for the individual institutions. For the Duke basketballs and the Alabama footballs of the world it may be. But, for the Virginia Commenwealths and the Rutgers, it’s not.

Now, the NCAA itself, that’s a different story and an entirely different argument – one that should be made. The . . . uh . . . let’s call them “leaders” of college sports took home almost 1 billion in revenue last year, about 80% of which stems from March Madness. I’ll save that rant for another time. On to the individual universities.

Many schools, typically the public state universities, are forced to subsidize a large part of their athletic revenue in order to meet budget costs, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just how the numbers work.

The aforementioned “numbers” being the reason that UAB President Ray L. Watts gave to his football team for why the program was to be terminated in a team meeting. If the team was to be terminated – especially so abruptly – they must have been taking in water out the wazoo, right? Eh. Not so fast.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAvSuQEh6lI

As a whole, the athletic department at UAB subsidized about 18 million dollars of it’s 27.5 million dollar athletic budget last year. These subsidies – typically school or state contributions – tend to skew the bottom line, but even so, 125 schools subsidized more in their athletic budget than UAB last year. Subsidies aside, 36 schools with football lost more money than did the Blazers. Many, such as Rutgers, more than doubled in the red.

The football program, which made 7.2 million in revenue last year, was the largest bread-winner of the department by a longshot. Furthermore, there were six teams in the C-USA who made less, and two other schools in the state of Alabama – Troy and South Alabama did as well; they ranked 98th nationally among FBS schools.

Including the subsidies, UAB football actually produced a slim profit last year, $24,222.

Oh, and all of these numbers are from last season. When UAB stunk. Not this year, when the team was 6-6, bowl eligible, with first year (and last year) coach, Bill Clark. The Blazers saw their attendance almost double this season, despite having to play their games at Legion Field in Birmingham. A UAB team that didn’t lose a game by more than two touchdowns – apart from Arkansas – all season. Keep in mind that schedule included Marshall and Mississippi State.

There was a plan proposed to the Alabama (yes, like the Crimson Tide. It’s the same board) board of trustees (again, an entirely different issue that should be discussed) for UAB to build an on-campus stadium that was shot down a few years ago because it was “not in UAB’s best interest.” Sounds like it was the interest of the board being taken into account.

The rub: UAB’s football may not be a great financial investment, especially prior to the season. That said, it isn’t about the numbers. It can’t be. That argument 100% flies out the window when you take this into account: the supporters and people around the program were never given a chance to change the numbers. Not to mention, the numbers themselves are were on the upswing.

The newly founded, and likely soon to be closed, UAB Football Foundation, made up of many former players such as Roddy White, pledged to raise an estimated 4-5 million dollars this year, but it was all for naught.

If it was about the numbers, every option would have been exhausted. Coaches cut a salary, lose a few scholarships, donation/fundraiser drives, play another money game, go public for alumni help, so on and so fourth. Hell, how about hiring a firm to develop options on how to keep the program instead of the benefits of terminating it.

The university hired a consulting firm, CarrSports, to compare the financials on Division I programs with football vs. those who programs who did not have it. Interesting that other athletics ware not brought into the discussion, and that the elimination of football is obviously something that had been on the table for some time.

Which brings the question, who put it there?

Here’s an article from 2006, almost a decade ago, but a similar issue with the Alabama board of trustees arose – spearheaded by Paul Bear Bryant Jr. Bryant and the board blocked the Blazers from hiring the coach the school wanted twice, because the coach UAB originally wanted Jimbo Fisher (ring a bell?) may have also been targeted by Alabama.

Instead, the school hired Neil Callaway fresh off a DUI charge; it was a disaster from the beginning.

There is other evidence here from AL.com that elimination was pre-meditated.

Could it be a grudge that Bryant Jr. is still holding over former UAB AD Gene Bartow, who made cheating claims against Bryant Sr. that still linger? It certainly makes sense. He’s retiring from the board soon, and what a way to go out.

Despite support from those within the “Alabama” family, it seems the board isn’t interested in the sister school’s football.

Easy for A.J. to say when his school posted an athletic revenue of 143.6 million last year. That isn’t fair to A.J. because I think this was a very genuine tweet, as he is a genuine person, but the point remains.

On it’s website, UAB said that it does not plan to decrease it’s athletic budget, but instead reallocate the funds from the terminated programs into the schools higher prioritized sports. In the state of Alabama, I suppose football isn’t a priority to all. The other sports that came to mind are basketball, where the Blazers are currently 2-5 (if you count Young Harris College as a win) including a double digit home opening lost to Louisiana Monroe, and the baseball team who, despite finishing with a 35-21 record, was ousted in two games of a double elimination conference USA tournament.

The website goes on about how it wants to be even more competitive in Conference USA, which it is likely to be removed from without football.

President Watts decision, fiscally, could be debated. The way he went about it all is just wrong.

Tight end Brandon Pierce said it best, “It’s like SMU. We got the death penalty without any NCAA violations.”

Watts told the players in his meeting with them: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Well, Mr. President, I don’t know either.

 

*Photo credit to Thomas Graning, Associated Press

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