The Human Side to Cutting the UAB Football Program
So after plenty of uncertainty, officials from UAB has announced that they will be closing the football program following the 2014 season. The team, who is a part of Conference USA, whose bylaws require a football program, just achieved its first bowl eligibility in ten years, but has likely played its last game ever.
In a press release, President of UAB Ray Watts claimed, “the fiscal realities we face, both from an operating and a capital investment standpoint, are starker than ever and demand that we take decisive action for the greater good of the Athletic Department and UAB. As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the Athletic Department, football is simply not sustainable.”
Basically, instead of investing into the program — which they clearly refused to do after declining the idea for a new stadium in early November — officials believe it would be better to cut the football, as well as the bowling and rifle programs at the end of the year. Watt further explained, “While this will be a challenging transition for the UAB family, the financial picture made our decision very clear. We will not cut the current athletic budget, but in order to invest at least another $49 million to keep football over the next five years, we would have to redirect funds away from other critical areas of importance like education, research, patient care or student services.”
At the same time, ESPN reported that first year coach Bill Clark, who is largely responsible for the team’s turnaround, actually secured independent pledges to help with particular expenses — locker room, facilities, possibly a stadium — but UAB dragged their feet and would not formalize a contract extension for Clark.
But after the numbers poured out about the closure of the program, social media has been in a complete uproar with various videos, tweets and Instagram photos displaying the human side to the situation, observing the brotherhood formed within and through a sports team.
Most notably, a UAB player shot a six-minute video (above) of the meeting between players and President Watts. One reaction during the meeting from senior tight end Tristan Henderson — a former MP in the Army — has the Internet in an uproar. The 27-year-old player, who starts off calm but then quickly stands up in front of Watts, exclaimed “you’re telling me it’s because the numbers didn’t look right? Because the numbers didn’t look right? And you’ll go home and sleep in a comfortable, big-ass house. But it’s ok… What are they supposed to do? Some of these cats came from 3,000 miles away and came right here to be a part of this. To be a part of all of this. But you say ‘numbers?’ [Pointing at Clark] This man walks to you, walked in your office and said, ‘You’ve got to do it the right way for me to be here.’ And you said you would. And now you just pull the plug? So you lied to the man’s face?”
At the end of Henderson’s heart breaking speech, you can even hear the fans outside the building protesting the decision. They had been gathering outside the facility for three straight days in hopes to save the program. And since then, pictures have flooded the Internet of players crying and consoling each other, showing what a family the UAB team has become. And even an Instagram video from WIAT42 Sports Reporter Lauren Sisler shows how upset fans have gotten over the decision, with police having to hold them back as Watt exits the meeting with the players (warning: there are some choice words in the video, so it is NSFW).
Needless to say, there has been some fallout after Watt’s decision. Especially since, many believe the Board of Trustees — who are attempting to avoid the blame — did everything in their power to avoid helping the program survive. But even with all this press, no one knows how this will affect the schools other programs. As previously mentioned, Conference USA requires a football team. This will ultimately affect the basketball program, which has also been on a rise in recent years.
And let’s not forget, UAB will have to pay out over $2 million dollars in game cancellation fees. ESPN reports that “UAB must pay Tennessee $925,000 and Kentucky $500,000 to get out of those games. The Blazers also must pay for canceling future home-and-home series in 2015 and 2016 with Troy ($400,000), South Alabama ($300,000) and Georgia State ($300,000), which will cost UAB a total of $1 million to end.”
So for now, the program is done. Players will be eligible to transfer schools and go to other teams without penalty from the NCAA, and it is very likely that Coach Clark will not be out of a job for long. But this does not change the fact that closing this program feels wrong. Perhaps the lack of social media did not provide a face to 1995s termination of Pacific football — the last program to be closed — but it is something about the circumstances that makes these events feel shady. Unfortunately, it appears these innocent kids, who simply care for UAB, were caught in the crossfire. Even as big-time athletes like UAB-alum Roddy White try to publicly support the team through social media, the damage is already done.
It’s 50 active players at city council today we are trying to save our program fight for UAB football
— Roddy White (@roddywhiteTV) November 18, 2014
Everybody in the state should stand up for UAB & help keep their football program alive. I wish everybody the best. Keep the Blazers alive
— AJ McCarron (@10AJMcCarron) December 2, 2014