01 June 2015

With UAB football coming back, what's next?

Six months after terminating the program, UAB president Ray Watts announced on Monday that football (as well as rifle and bowling) will be returning to the school. The football program was terminated on December 2nd, becoming the first major college football school to drop its program since the University of the Pacific did so back in 1995. The hope is that the Blazers will return to the gridiron in 2016.

But while it is good to see UAB football returning, it means that there is still a long way coming for the Blazers to get back to what they were.

Just in case you are not familiar with the situation, the school decided to shut down their football program due to the costs of fielding a football team. Watts cited a report created by consultant Bill Carr that said that the school would have to invest at least $49 million over the next five years to keep the program competitive.

As one would suspect, the players were none too pleased when presented with the news that the program was being shut down, wondering how other schools could make football work and yet theirs could not.

Many were skeptical from the get-go over the financial concerns from the administration as the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, which oversees the school, have long played a role in underfunding the program and attempting to limit its success. The problems center on board member Paul Bryant Jr. and famously began when legendary UAB basketball coach Gene Bartow wrote a letter to the NCAA accusing Alabama football icon Bear Bryant of cheating in 1991. The famous example being when the board nixed the program's hiring of Jimbo Fisher, then the LSU offensive coordinator, to be their head coach back in 2006.

Not to mention that issues with the Carr findings arose, thanks in part to some exceptional reporting from Jon Solomon of CBS Sports. Late in December, Solomon uncovered numerous discrepancies with Carr's report including with how much money was raised by the athletics department per sport, specifically football contributions, no model in place without Conference USA revenue. After the school pledged to have someone reevaluate the numbers (later bringing in a different consultant to do the analysis), it came out that the school had actually decided to end the program before last season.

The firm ultimately hired to conduct the report, College Sports Solutions, found that reinstating the three cancelled sports was a "viable option" for the school and that the Carr report was ultimately faulty. It made a pretty solid case for having a football program as did the firm initially hired to conduct the review, while a case could be made that the CSS report actually undervalued the benefits of football for the school.

In the end, the case for dropping football fell apart and ultimately here we are, six months later, with Watts having to correct his initial blunder. But while football is coming back to UAB, that does not mean that the road forward will be easy.

As one would expect when you shut down a football program, a significant amount of the roster has already transferred to other schools while much of the coaching staff, save for head coach Bill Clark who will return, has gone as well. Essentially, UAB gave itself a death penalty and now will have to start over from scratch. It could take some years to build up a roster considering the max of signing 25 players in recruiting, meaning that returning for 2016 seems like a stretch. Newer programs like Georgia State, Old Dominion and Charlotte took a handful of years to build up to get to FBS status, and those were at the FCS level.

And we are talking about a program that will have to build back up from ground zero after having a promising 2014 season in which they were bowl-eligible for the first time in a decade.
And yet as CBS Sports's Dennis Dodd points out, UAB has gotten much more attention, and notably more money and support, now in the wake of the program being shut down. Now it looks like the facilities will see sorely needed upgrades, including the hopes of an on-campus stadium, the likes of which were difficult to come by beforehand under the squeeze tactics of the Board of Trustees. Who knows, maybe this will become a model for other struggling programs.

Joking aside, Watts should still lose his job and should not be praised for this decision, one that he made out of pressure when his defense for shutting the program down fell apart. The fact that a program that appeared to had some momentum for one of the few times in its history has had to go through this debacle is a joke.

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