Despite the last-ditch efforts to show support for the program, UAB has made the unfortunate decision final. UAB officially announced the shutting down of the football program on Tuesday, citing financial realities as the biggest problem prohibiting the program from continuing. The decision was made following a detailed look at the strategic planning process for the entire campus at UAB, and the football program was singled out along with the school’s bowling and rifle programs as an expense that needed to be cut.
“From an operating budget standpoint alone, the difference between maintaining and eliminating football is more than $27 million over the next five years; this is in addition to the existing $100 million institutional subsidy,” a statement from the university explains. “This investment does not include additional necessary capital improvements for facilities, which is estimated at $22 million for football facilities alone, including a field house, indoor practice facility and a turf field. This $22 million investment would not include an on-campus stadium.”
“While this will be a challenging transition for the UAB family, the financial picture made our decision very clear,” UAB president Ray Watts said. “We will not cut the current athletic budget, but in order to invest at least another $49 million to keep football over the next five years, we would have to redirect funds away from other critical areas of importance like education, research, patient care or student services.”
This is a sad day for the football players, coaches, trainers and other staff associated with the football program. The focus on directing money toward education should come off as a refreshing approach, but it does not come without controversy. Any football player on UAB’s roster will be eligible for a free transfer by the NCAA, according to John Infante of 30-Mile Radius. Head coach Bill Clark and his staff should also be free to pursue other job opportunities as well. Clark coached UAB to a 6-6 season to become bowl-eligible. It does not appear the team will go to a bowl game as a result of this decision.
This also opens the door for possible expansion for Conference USA. The conference’s bylaws require each member to play FBS football. With the loss of UAB and the addition of Charlotte next year, Conference USA will remain with 13 members. Charlotte’s addition was supposed to make a 14-team league. Conference USA can survive with uneven membership, but it is typically ideal to have even numbers. Keep an eye on potential FCS targets like James Madison or Liberty, but also keep tabs on UMass. The Minutemen are now a football independent after leaving the MAC as a football-only member.
Army used to play football in Conference USA, but the program left the conference after the 2004 season to play as an independent due to an inability to compete. There is no indication Army would consider a return to the conference, although with Air Force in the Mountain West Conference and Navy joining the American Athletic Conference next season, Army’s return to the conference might be an option worth exploring.
UPDATE: UAB players will reportedly meet to decide whether or not to finish the season in a bowl game, if selected to play ina bowl game.