UAB Fights Their Way Back

Public outcry saves a program, for now

by Chris Yow | Special Contributor reported on this story in December, to read that article, click here

That was one heck of a fundraiser.

UAB President Ray Watts stood in a room full of media members who have championed the cause of the “vocal few” and reversed the decision made in December 2014 to cut football, bowling and rifle. Never actually taking blame for one of the costliest mistakes in history, Watts told how supporters they needed to continue to step up and raise the funds necessary in keeping the program alive.

New Athletics Director Mark Ingram said UAB needed to raise an addition $3.5 million each year to sustain football at the school.

*Side note* Is it the biggest troll in the history of the Univ. of Alabama that the UAB AD shares the same name as Alabama’s lone Heisman Trophy winner? Well played, UABOT.

Ingram being invited to the press conference was the tell-tale sign for me the three sports would be coming back. Putting a new AD in that situation and not announce the sports’ returns would have essentially been putting him all but one arm into the grave.

UAB supporters publicly and privately raised in excess of $23 million during the six months the program shut down. One booster, Jimmy Filler, pledged $7.5 million for facilities upgrades. The city of Birmingham pledged $2.5 million over five years. Mayor William Bell has been adamant about a football stadium, err, multi-purpose facility downtown for quite some time, and he and Watts have had “considerable” discussions about the matter of a stadium for the Blazers.

It is currently unknown when the Blazers will once again take the field, but it will play FBS football and it will be a member of Conference USA, that much is known. Ingram said the target start date was as soon as possible, maybe 2016.

The problems with a start date of 2016 are many. The school has possibly already paid to get out of scheduling contracts with many non-conference opponents, although it is believed Kentucky is still on the 2016 schedule. According to different people, there are as many as 25 or as little as 10 scholarship football players still on campus. Either way, that number is very important to the time frame in which the school can have success on the football field. Technically, the Blazers could sign 25 players by the end of the year and 25 more on signing day in 2016, but practice would be limited, and most FBS level players are signed to play somewhere already.

Head coach Bill Clark may try to recruit JUCO players to fill the upper classes quickly, and there is still the option of graduate transfers. Nonetheless, filling the roster is the number one concern.

Currently, UAB plays at historic Legion Field. The stadium holds more than 70,000 people, which is simply too big. Conference USA members rarely average more than 30,000 per game. The Blazers were among the league leaders in average attendance last season with around 25,000 per game. In case you’ve not seen the photos, 25,000 people inside a 70,000-seat stadium look bare.

Legion Field is also in a part of the city where many won’t dare venture for, really unsubstantiated, reasons of fear.

Can the program survive with the needs it has? Absolutely. I believe the city of Birmingham will support its own when times call for it. But Watts has certainly made it clear that the school will take on zero debt to help to the cause.

Basically, UAB football is Birmingham’s football team. If the city and fans support it, it’s here to stay. If not, you can bet December 2, 2014, will come again.

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