UAB Shuts Down Football

December 2, 2014 by Dave Congrove

I would like to say that I didn't see that coming, but the fact of the matter is that I wasn't all that surprised to hear the news that UAB would become the first major college football program since Pacific in 1995 to go from life to death in a nanosecond.

Sadly, it comes on the heels of the program's best season (6-6) since 2004 and strips away any opportunity to celebrate the success of first-year head coach Bill Clark who inherited a program that was 31-76 over the 10 years prior to his arrival.

Sadly, it deprives the players who bought into Clark's system and may have laid a foundation for further advancement of the program. The rug has been pulled from under their feet.

School president Ray Watts informed the team of the decision on Tuesday, and articulated his plan in an open letter that ironically couldn't be found on the school's main website, nor on the athletics website.

A USA Today article, authored by Don Wolken (UAB Shuts Down Its Football Program), contained the letter in which I found this excerpt:

This decision is not about cutting the Athletics budget, but instead is about reallocating resources to more fully support and reinvest in athletic programs in which we have an opportunity to achieve a high level of success. Many of our programs have been on the cusp, and redirecting funds from football can propel them to the next level.

With this strategy, I am confident that UAB's best days for Athletics are ahead. But the coming days and months will be difficult for those most affected. We couldn't be more proud of how well our student-athletes and coaches have represented the institution, even in the midst of recent, very regrettable distractions. They have earned our respect and appreciation, which makes this necessary financial decision all the more difficult.

Interestingly, UAB's decision to cut the program altogether comes on the heels of an off-season movement to pay college football players and form a union. The dialogue advancing this cause centered around the false narrative that schools across America were getting rich on the backs of their student athletes, particularly their football and basketball players. The propaganda espoused that television revenue and sponsorship were the driving force behind the success of these programs.

Truth is, alumni and corporate donations, season tickets and concessions still generate the lion's share of revenue for major college football programs. That revenue gets funneled into the support of other athletic programs which aren't self-sustaining, such as swimming, gymnastics, track, tennis and golf.

One of the greatest pieces of evidence ever published to shed light on the truth of what sustains college athletics was published by ESPN in 2009 and is still available on their website. See the revenue and expenses breakdown here.

For 2014, UAB ranked 93rd for average football game attendance out of 129 measured schools by the NCAA on this webpage (click on Misc Reports, then Attendance). Only 12 programs achieved 100% sell-out of their stadiums for the season, while 14 programs saw their stadium less than half-full. And some schools only saw decent % attendance numbers because their stadiums are of small-to-moderate size. For instance, Old Dominion achieved 100% sell-out in a 20,118-seat venue that was built in 1946.

That doesn't necessarily imply that multiple institutions are about to jerk college football programs out from underneath their students' feet. Most, if not all of the schools that have voted to begin or expand a college football program in recent history, have rationally realized that it won't create a windfall of revenue, but rather a significant increase in exposure and support from the community.

In an article I republished from the National Football Foundation & College Hall Of Fame in 2011, still current Kennesaw State athletics director Vaughn Williams said, "We have done the studies. So, we know the investment that it will take. It's about the brand and the university, so in essence it's an investment in the overall university. We're not thinking that we're going to make millions of dollars. We're looking to create an excellent program that is going to enhance everything that we do in the fiber of this university. It's bigger than football. Football is just another piece of the puzzle. We are going to raise the bar academically. And it's going to get more competitive to get into Kennesaw."

Compare the statements coming from UAB to those from Kennesaw State and you will understand why the UAB decision to drop football didn't surprise me.