UAB football is no longer dead, but it is not yet fully alive, either. School president Ray Watts, athletics director Mark Ingram and a host of others announced Monday the program has received pledges for the $17 million it needed to remove its operational deficit, but $13 million more is needed to construct facilities deemed necessary by last year’s Carr Sports Consulting report. “As of today we are taking steps to reinstate the football, bowling and rifle programs,” Watts said. But, he added, “there is still work to be done.” Watts, however, was short on specifics.
Before we get to Monday’s announcement: let’s briefly run through the last 17 months of UAB football. Following a 2-10 2013 season, and a 5-19 mark in two years, head coach Garrick McGee left for the offensive coordinator job at Louisville – reportedly acting on information he learned on the Blazers’ impending doom. Two weeks later, UAB hired Bill Clark, a longtime Alabama high school coach fresh off an 11-4 debut at Jacksonville State. Clark led the program to a 6-6 mark in 2014, far from a conference championship, but still one of the best seasons in school history.
On Nov. 5 of last season, a letter from former players emerged, voicing the group’s well-founded fear that the University of Alabama system was working to kill the program. Four controversial weeks later, the program was dead.
And now it’s alive again.
How Watts is around to make the announcement is just one of the astounding aspects of this story. The irony here, of course, is Watts and the U of A leadership made UAB football more popular in death and near death than it ever was in life. The drive to bring back the program has generated pledges from the city of Birmingham and the UAB student government and a reported $6 million in donations from Blazers supporters.
BREAKING new UAB AD Mark Ingram will form committee to raise $13-14 million to upgrade athletic facilities includes practice field
— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) June 1, 2015
Told fund easing goal for facilities is closer to $13-$14M not $13-$20m — Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) June 1, 2015
The dueling irony here is that while the program has acquired a new infrastructure, putting the team in a better position to succeed than it ever was previously, the team itself has been completely depleted. Sources tell FootballScoop that the vast majority of players with offers to play elsewhere have taken those offers, meaning head coach Bill Clark will essentially take over an expansion program.
Clark is well-liked in the coaching community, and building a competitive staff will not be an issue. Fielding a competitive team will be.
If Monday’s event played like an announcement thrown together at the last minute, that’s because it was. Watts said he made the decision to revive the program “today.”
The press conference was long on buzzwords – “balanced budget” and “moving forward” were said a dozen times more than “football” – and short on details. A number of questions still abound. When will the program play again? Ingram said 2016 “may be” the target date, but that UAB will work with Conference USA and the NCAA to work through the logistics of reviving the program. “We are very pleased with the decision to bring back the football program at UAB,” C-USA said in a statement.
Where will the team play? Watts said the city of Birmingham and the Birmingham business community would work together to create a facility the Blazers could use. How quickly will the program need to raise the $13 million required for additional facilities, and what happens if those unspecified deadlines aren’t met? Check back later.
To summarize: UAB football is back. When? Hopefully soon. Who’s funding it? Donors. When do they need the money by? We’ll let you know.
— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) June 1, 2015
And the most glaring question: why didn’t UAB do everything in its power to raise the $17 million needed before killing the program? Watts said donors came out of the woodwork that had never before donated to the program and athletics department with their checkbooks in hand. As if it was a surprise cutting a football program wouldn’t play well in Birmingham, Alabama.
Ray Watts: “We now have tangible commitments for additional financial support we didn’t have before.” Says the guy who turned down donations
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) June 1, 2015
Few specifics. Few details. No contrition or admission of guilt. Same old Ray Watts.
— Kevin Scarbinsky (@KevinScarbinsky) June 1, 2015
Essentially, in Ray Watts’ world, killing the program was just what UAB needed to save its football program. Go figure.