BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The reports began surfacing weeks ago. Then, this weekend, they got stronger. And finally, today, at around 2:30 p.m., UAB officially shuttered its football program, along with its bowling and rifle teams.
The UAB football program was launched in 1991. The team was enjoying its first bowl-eligible season since 2004, but it will be its last. While UAB president Ray Watts was addressing the football team in private, the school released a statement saying that the 2014-2015 academic year would be the final season.
“Today, we announced results of the Athletic Department’s strategic planning process,” the statement said. “In order for us to more effectively reinvest in athletic programs that are most likely to bring growth, prolonged success and national prominence to UAB, the 2014-2015 academic year will be the final season for UAB football, bowling and rifle.”
The signs had been prevalent throughout the season as the university went through a yearlong study that examined the financial stability of the football program. The team was not scheduled to play any non-conference games past 2015, head coach Bill Clark did not get a contract extension, nor did any of his assistants.
The decision has been blamed on the University of Alabama board of trustees, which has autonomy over UAB and UAH, and it’s also been blamed on an ancient vendetta between Paul Bryant Jr. and former UAB athletic director Gene Bartow. The actual reason behind the program’s demise — conspiratorial or not — was funding, or a lack thereof.
“The difference between our future Athletic Department with and without football is an additional $49 million investment on top of the $100 million UAB will already invest in Athletics in the next five years,” Watts wrote in his statement. “This decision is not about cutting the Athletics budget, but instead is about reallocating resources to more fully support and reinvest in athletic programs in which we have an opportunity to achieve a high level of success.
“Many of our programs have been on the cusp, and redirecting funds from football can propel them to the next level.”
UAB played in the decaying remnant of Legion Field, and couldn’t draw the crowds it needed to break even. While UAB was fifth in Conference-USA attendance this year — averaging 21,841 people per game — it still wasn’t enough to earn the money required to run an FBS football program, even with Clark’s miraculous turnaround. With this decision, UAB becomes the first FBS school to drop football since the University of the Pacific shuttered its team in 1995.
UAB will also have to pay $2.425M to cancel upcoming non-conference games against Tennessee, Kentucky, Troy, Georgia State and South Alabama.
With its football team gone, UAB will most likely have to move its remaining teams into a different conference, as Conference-USA requires its members to have a football program. UAB’s players will be able to transfer freely to other schools, but the university said it will honor the player’s scholarships if they remain at UAB. The contracts of each coach will also be honored.
The public outcry over UAB was loud this weekend, with protesters on campus and countless words of support from around the area. But this support proved to be too little, too late for UAB. The football players and coaches left the meeting with Watts with tears in their eyes.
In Watts’ afternoon press conference today, he said he loves UAB and that this decision was made as a result of financial realities. He also said that the Alabama board of trustees played no part in the decision-making process.
“On purpose, we have kept the Board out of this decision,” Watts said. “This is a university decision.”
He said that the money saved by the decision would help other programs at the university, and that he has no plans to cut other sports.
“We have a huge role to play in our community, in our state,” Watts said. “I can promise you that every important decision that we make is done so with the best knowledge available.”
Watts then left the stage and let G. Allen Bolton Jr., UAB VP for Academic Affairs, lay out some financial numbers to the media. But he returned to assure the crowd gathered and those watching on television that the choices made were the correct ones for the betterment of athletic, academic and research programs.
“This has been an agonizing decision because of the people involved,” Watts said. “We knew we had to make some difficult, but necessary decisions.”