The University of Alabama-Birmingham announced Tuesday that they would be eliminating their football program after the 2014-15 academic year.
School president Ray Watts informed the team of the decision in a tense meeting Tuesday afternoon. Along with the football program being eliminated, the sports of bowling and rifle were terminated as well.
According to a letter from President Watts, the institution subsidizes $20 Million of the $30 Million athletic budget. The budget is fifth in Conference USA on both fronts. In order for the program to be sustainable in the future, an additional $49 Million was going to be necessary over the next five years.
That was apparently too much financial burden to bear, and there was not enough fundraising that could be accomplished in a short period of time in order to cover that gap.
Players expressed their anger and disgust to the president, but the decision had already been made:
UAB was born as a Division III program in 1991 and quickly rose up to Division I-FBS status. Now that the institution has dropped football, the university’s membership in Conference-USA is in jeopardy, as football sponsorship is a prerequisite for conference membership. This prerequisite was mentioned in the brief statement released by Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky today expressing that the conference was, “disappointed by the decision” that UAB leadership made.
So this decision is going to have a larger ripple effect than even the leadership of the institution could have forseen, as the athletes that are on other teams might have to reconsider if they are going to stay at the institution if they have to drop down to a lesser conference.
Not only players, but one would have to think that coaches might want to reconsider their own positions relative to the pecking order within their sport.
It is a shock and a pain for any sport to be canceled, and as the video showed, it is an emotional issue. Not even considering the trickle down effect to the other programs, many lives are affected as players have to consider finding new schools where they get a chance to complete their degrees or eligibility. Coaches have to find new jobs and some administrators may have to move on as well. Support staff need to find other jobs, too.
UAB is the first Division I FBS program to eliminate football since the University of Pacific did it in 1995. The University of Hawai’i has mentioned in recent years that football might be on the chopping block but no moves have been made to head in that direction.
Could UAB have done more to avoid the axe? Obviously, the lack of on-field success has to be considered as part of the post-mortem analysis, and the fact of the matter is that UAB football did not succeed on the field.
And while it is easy to be passionate right now about the fact that the program is being dismantled more or less immediately (pending a bowl bid that probably won’t come), obviously a more successful program on the field would have more than likely brought in more money and at the very least given itself a fighting chance to survive.
This should, however, serve as a warning to lots of schools in this era of autonomy that the Power 5 conferences have established. It will be increasingly difficult to try and keep up with the Joneses.
And given that the sheer size of a football program makes it naturally an expensive proposition, the schools that are in the Group of Five (especially the more unsuccessful ones) might need to seriously step back and take a look at their finances and determine once and for all if this is truly a game that they need to play.
Because the reality is that UAB is not as much of an outlier as they might appear to be.
They may, in fact, become the norm.