News of a FBS school considering the termination of its football program is making headlines today in Birmingham. UAB football is in trouble and fans have rallied to make a protest outside of the school’s administration building today. It’s a situation that could impact football programs all over the nation.
I’m not a UAB fan and don’t know the intricacies of its specific situation other than what I’ve read. But I am a mid-major football fan and UAB’s decision is one that more FBS schools on the mid-major level will probably face in the future. There are always pros to keeping a football team and UAB is no exception.
UAB has had a roughly a 110 percent increase in attendance this season. In week 2 UAB actually out-gained Mississippi State in a 47-34 loss in Starkville. The same Mississippi State team would reach the No. 1 ranking later in the season. For the first time since 2004, the Blazers are bowl eligible at 6-6 thanks to a 4-4 mark in Conference USA.
A winning football program can bring so much publicity to a university. To do that in other sports is a greater challenge. College basketball teams can really only bring national recognition to a school through the tournament. Baseball is only through the College World Series. East Carolina, however, brought plenty of attention to its school just by beating two ACC teams this season in football. It can be done.
The cons are there too. The Blazers have only been to one bowl game, a loss to Hawaii in 04. Having losing seasons for that long is poison to a mid-major. Southern Mississippi came in to Birmingham in the final week last season on a 23-game losing streak, and actually drilled the Blazers 62-27. That’s like getting killed 20 times on “Call of Duty” by a 9-year-old girl online.
Another problem is Conference USA. Their games are not the easiest to find as the schools that could do so moved up to the American Athletic. Even Marshall struggled to have their games seen despite being undefeated until the final week of the season. The days of Louisville and TCU in CUSA are ancient history. The result is UAB constantly trying to create new rivalries with the likes of Middle Tennessee State and Florida International. It will take time for the conference to stabilize itself.
Attendance in 2013 was a joke for a school in football obsessed Alabama at just over 10,000 fans a game. Only Eastern Michigan, the laughing stock of FBS attendance, had a poorer number in 2013. Sure, 2014 was over 21,000 but it’s tough to make that up. The UAB athletic department is operating millions into the red (over 17 million) but that is actually common for most mid-major programs.
If you keep football, does that mean you cut another sport instead? Title IX makes the women’s sports off limits, as they should be. Dropping something small like men’s golf is not going to save any money. Dropping baseball or men’s soccer will save money but those are not going to turn around the athletic department’s debt anytime soon. UAB’s soccer team went to the NCAA tournament this year. Baseball is another team with past success. Removing those sports would be a sour move.
If UAB does drop its football team the question will be who is next? The group of five conferences (CUSA, American, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) all have to reevaluate how they can compete in the new playoff system. They can’t play in a system where the power conferences make all the rules. These leagues have to work together to either make a new division or drop to FCS play. It’s hard to sell tickets when you can’t play for a national championship.
Today, UAB fans and students held a rally to save the program outside the administration building. Here are some of the tweets.
While ESPN and other networks only talk about players signing autographs and domestic assaults, UAB’s decision on its football program is a top 10 sports story of the year in my opinion. Things are just getting started for determining the future of mid-major football, and I have no idea how it will turn out.