Holohan: UAB in the wrong

Published 3:00 am Thursday, December 4, 2014

It’s not that they did it, but how they did it.

By now, the news has circulated on just about every sports, news and fan site around the country.

UAB football is shutting down.

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After an unimaginable turnaround season that saw the Blazers finish 6-6 and become eligible for a bowl for just the second time in school history, the football program will now cease to exist.

But why?

The answer may not be as cut-and-dry as UAB president Ray Watts made it seem.

“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,” Watts told CBS Sports.

But honestly, is it really about money?

Sure, UAB football is in desperate need of a new stadium. Legion Field, their current off-campus home, is legendary, but old and dilapidated.

Sure, college football is expensive. Sustaining a team and keeping facilities up to date is expensive. And the football program was reportedly in the red financially.

But news flash: UAB isn’t the only university in the country with a college football program. And they’re not the only ones losing money.

In fact, UAB football is actually middle of the pack in Group of Five schools — non-Power Five schools— in terms of financial deficit.

According to the USA Today Sports college athletics financial database from the 2012-2013 football season, UAB ranks 27th out of 56 Group of Five schools currently losing money on college football.

But with all that said, no one can blame a university for trying to be fiscally responsible. If they were concerned with losing money, they needed to do what they felt was best.

But again: it’s not what they did, it’s how they did it.

Knowing costs were rising each year to continue maintaining a college football team, UAB hired a consulting firm to do a campus-wide study over the past year to determine the viability of the program.

According to UAB, the study helped determine the university could no longer sustain the program.

So then it’s a matter of money, right?

That’s what UAB booster Jimmy Filler thought.

On Tuesday, he announced the newly-created UAB Football Foundation was prepared to donate $4-5 million in the next year and more over the next ten years to help support the program, schedule nonconference games past the 2016 season and assist the team in winning Conference USA championships.

That should help immensely, right?

Apparently not. Watts and the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees said thanks, but no thanks.

And therein lies the root of the problem.

UAB is part of the University of Alabama system. Without their own board of trustees, they have no say for themselves. They are at the mercy of the interests of the mother ship: that other Alabama school in Tuscaloosa. And UAB supporters believe that powerful trustees, especially the son of legendary Alabama head coach Bear Bryant, have been plotting to destroy UAB athletics for years.

In 1993, the Los Angeles Times ran a letter that then-UAB athletic director Gene Bartow wrote to the NCAA, advising them to look into several head coaches at Alabama who may be committing violations, many of whom were “trained” by Bear Bryant.

And since then, UAB supports like Filler believe Bryant’s son, Paul Bryant Jr., has been out to stomp out UAB athletics.

And Tuesday, it looked like “Little Bear” finally got his way.

Again, no one can fault a university — which at its roots is a business — for looking out for themselves and assuring they remain financially sustainable.

But the way UAB and the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees eradicated themselves of the “burden” of their football program is despicable.

When Blazer head coach Bill Clark asked about the future of his job and the future of his student-athletes, he was given the runaround. And when copious amounts of money were offered to the board, they refused. So it must not be about money then, is it?

A university athletic program that is supposed to be students first was anything but throughout this process.

Instead of being about the student-athletes, they left their students — predominantly 18-22-year-old kids — to stand outside of Watt’s building on campus, tears coming from their eyes, completely blindsided by the news that they would no longer be playing football. And as the students pleaded with administration and begged to know why their team was no more, Watts sat in his office, knowing his paycheck was coming regardless.

This decision was not about a lack of resources, it was not about the best interests of the student-athletes. It was about a vendetta and a decades-long stranglehold the board of trustees has held over UAB to boost their egos and personal interests.


One more time for emphasis: it’s not that you did it, but how you did it.

And how you did it, board, was completely wrong.