1. Why did UAB disband football in the first place?
Steven Godfrey: UAB president Ray Watts commissioned CarrSports Consulting to perform a financial review in 2013. In December 2014, the review determined that along with bowling and rifle, football should be shut down.
Rumors built as UAB ended 2014 at a promising 6-6 under new coach Bill Clark, who rallied to keep the program. Watts shut it down in December, informing the team during a heated meeting.
More than 50 players transferred and 2016 opponents rescheduled. Clark refused to take another coaching job.
2. Was there more to that story?
Godfrey: The numbers were likely bunk. A CBS report revealed the CarrSports math indicating future losses was based on assumptions in donor patterns, an economist study alleged the program would make money and a College Sports Solutions study found the deficit likely nowhere near the $17 million claimed.
Alabama state rep. Jack Williams, who runs Rivals.com's UAB site, stated UAB planned to shut down football anyway.
3. So ... why did UAB disband football in the first place?
Godfrey: Meet the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, the group that oversees the flagship in Tuscaloosa and other schools. Blazer fans have complained for years that the board has held down UAB. Among their anecdotal evidence:
- UAB tried to hire future Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, but funds were denied at the 11th hour with no public comment.
- UAB played in one of the most decrepit facilities in FBS, city-owned Legion Field. A proposal for a small stadium was denied as "the wrong project at the wrong time."
- Clark created a plan for a $10 million practice facility funded substantially through private donations, replacing fields that routinely flooded. The mayor supported the project. The board never approved it, but months after killing football, greenlit a $4.5 million soccer complex.
- When a local business arranged to upgrade practice turf at no cost, UA trustee Finis St. John had the project killed, according to an AL.com report.
- In 2011, St. John implied publicly that UAB shouldn't have athletics. St. John and others feel the medical school should be UAB's focus, not football. In the state of Alabama.
4. You call that a conspiracy? What about the son of Bear Bryant?
Godfrey: Gene Bartow, the founder of athletics at UAB, claimed in a 1991 letter to the NCAA that Tide legend Bear Bryant had cheated. As the story goes, Bryant's son, UA trustee Paul Bryant Jr., thus made it his life's mission to shut down UAB sports. From CBS' Jon Solomon in November:
"Gene Bartow, out of his mouth, told me on many, many occasions that the aim of the board of trustees was to kill UAB football in the last 8-10 years,' said Jimmy Filler, UAB's biggest booster. 'They're going to get the recommendation from (UAB President Ray Watts), and they'll accept what he brings to them."
Bryant is a media recluse, and other trustees often decline to comment on UAB.
UAB fan HQ
UAB fan HQ
5. So what changed to bring back football just months later?
Godfrey: Noise. UAB was the first FBS department to shut down football in 20 years. The move didn't fade into memory. UAB supporters included graduation and the basketball team's March Madness upset in their constant protests.
Local and national media linked UAB's demise with politics, rather than finances. Williams led multiple public polls to build support in-state, and private donations mobilized.
Speculation is that new athletic director Mark Ingram worked to build behind-the-scenes support. One source with ties to UAB told SB Nation that Ingram wouldn't have accepted the position if the renewal wasn't a possibility.
6. When will UAB play again?
Rodger Sherman: Ingram said "as soon as possible, which may be 2016," which would mean 2015 as a recruiting season for a staff the returning Clark would hire.
But that doesn't necessarily mean FBS in 2016. The team doesn't really have any players now and would only have one recruiting class at that point, putting it dozens of scholarships shy of 85. You need to spend a year or so in FCS against smaller teams, and where you can schedule anybody from NAIA teams you should beat to Ohio State, which will pay you money.
Georgia State, South Alabama and UTSA followed similar timelines.
7. Will UAB have a conference?
Sherman: Conference USA said it would kick the Blazers out if they didn't reinstate for 2016. Per league rules, members must have football. The Blazers hope to be a full member, so I'd imagine they will reach a deal.
UAB could rejoin C-USA in 2017 as a provisional and a full FBS member by 2019. It's unknown if the NCAA will make exceptions to accelerate this process.
8. What about those facilities?
Sherman: Nothing yet. Watts said the money already raised won't be enough to upgrade. A committee will try to raise $13 million to build a practice field.
Watts shut the door on UAB financing its own stadium, but said the school was in "productive" talks with the city and businesses about an on-campus stadium.
9. How dumb is all this?
Spencer Hall: Spectacularly dumb from every perspective.
If you were a person who believed the program should not exist, you get what you did not want: a Blazers program with a higher profile, a grudge to nurse and more of an identity than it could have dreamed of.
This might be better than any marketing campaign any ad agency could have devised in terms of breeding local loyalty. The team can now claim permanent underdog status. Bonus: you got a free villain in the bumbling board and Bryant, Jr., and no one's a hero without a villain.
If you were a person interested in the long-term prospects of UAB, this came out badly, too. The Blazers had turned a corner by hiring Clark, building the basics of a recruiting pipeline and playing improved football. And thanks to circumstances well beyond anyone in Birmingham's control, anyone recruiting against UAB can suggest the program could disappear again.
This is bad for recruiting, hiring, the business and the institution, whose supporters have used the program's struggles to suggest the state wants the entire undergraduate program to disappear and stop competing with Tuscaloosa and Auburn.
The Blazers are starting over with funding pledges and anger. That's something, but it's less than they had.
10. Why should I care?
Bill Connelly: College football's oligarchy is strong. And when it comes to money and television, that's just fine. People watch the big teams, and the sport has never been more popular than right now.
But not many kids get a chance to play for the blue bloods. College football's long-term health depends on the number of strong opportunities players have, and every FBS program that dies means 85 fewer FBS opportunities. And when 85 opportunities are killed off in such a cynical manner, there's serious damage.
Second, it just feels good when the good guys win (even if some of the bad guys win, too). UAB's dismemberment was transparently absurd. The justification never came close to adding up; it never really tried to add up.
The fact that the passion and outrage were strong enough to make a difference proves not only that the big boys can still be taken down, but that football can still be a rallying point. It's never a bad thing to be reminded of that.
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