Ray Watts

UAB would like your football money sooner rather than later

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As UAB works hard to bring back to life the football program it hastily killed off last November, the university is requesting those who committed to donate funds to get those checks in the mail as soon as possible. A letter to UAB alumni and more requested for payments to be made between September 1 and 7 so that the university can put together a budget for the coming year.

The letter in full — signed by embattled UAB president Ray Watts, Athletics Director Mark Ingram and UAB Athletics Campaign Committee chair Hatton Smith —  was shared by Kevin Scarbinsky of Al.com and can be read here. One portion of the letter details the need for receiving donations ahead of a normal schedule.

We now must get pledge payments in hand. We are already working with many of our donors and supporters so we can cover the expenses associated with the restoration of the three sports on schedule. As indicated at the news conference in June, the necessary funding for these programs is critical to support multi-year commitments to our student athletes and coaches. We’d like to get ahead of the curve and stay there. Specifically, we request that donors make initial payments on their pledges by September 1, 2015. In addition, we will be seeking advance pledge payments on January 15, 2016, and July 1, 2016, for those who are able to help us stay ahead of the curve.

As you might imagine, the reaction from some in the UAB community to this has been a bit mixed. On one side you will have the understanding and devoted fans that will bend over backward to help the university provide a stable budget for the rebirth of UAB football (and rifle and bowling). On the other you have those already speculating this could give UAB an excuse if the financial situation is not improved to bring football back.

UAB is planning to return to the football field in 2017.

Report: UAB could announce decision to not reinstate football Friday night

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There is no official statement saying anything other than there is no decision made yet on the future of UAB football. However, one report suggests an announcement could be made at the absolute textbook news dump hour; Friday night.

In a report by Kevin Scarbinsky of Al.com, Alabama State Representative Jack Williams says he has received “strong indications” UAB will not reinstate football. The state representative also told Al.com he believes UAB president Ray Watts could make that announcement Friday night.

If that proves to be the reality of the situation as UAB reassessed the fate of the football program it shut down last November, then it is following the public relations textbook in releasing negative news as late on a Friday as possible. Except the news cycle is more around-the-clock as it has ever been, so UAB and Watts would not be escaping much turmoil if an announcement is made Friday night. After all of the negativity surrounding the way this UAB situation has unfolded, it would be nice to see the school just come right out and announce the decision, for better or worse, as early as possible instead of trying to hide in the darkness of the night.

But let’s see how this plays out. The odds of UAB overturning its previous decision to shut the program down were slim from the beginning, but at least there was a glimmer of hope for the fans. It would be nice to see UAB be straight with the fans and community, whatever the final decision may be. They deserve that.

UAB will review the future of football

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There remains a glimmer of hope for the revival of UAB football. The university will vote on what to do with the future of the football program on June 1, UAB president Ray Watts has announced.

UAB announced a decision to shut down the football program in late November 2014. Despite being bowl eligible, the Blazers were left with no bowl invitation in the days following the decision to shut down the program. Watts informed the team of the decision in a meeting, which as you might imagine became a bit of an emotional scene.Conference USA has already made the decision to cut ties with UAB in the aftermath of losing the football program. Each Conference USA member must be a member in all sports, so the loss of football hurt UAB in that area, but if the school acts quickly to pretend it was all a bad dream then perhaps there is a chance Conference USA might reconsider its decision, which it should if UAB commits to bring football back to life.

Even if the school does vote to resurrect the freshly killed off program, it may be too late to play in 2015. Schedules have already been filled with the absence of UAB and players have gone one way or another after being allowed to transfer without penalty of sitting out a season. But head coach Bill Clark made the decision early on to refrain from exploring other opportunities on the off-chance UAB did bring back football. At this point, the earliest UAB football would be expected to be ready to play again would be 2016 at the earliest. And in that case, UAB will have made things so much more difficult for themselves then they ever needed to be.

Conference USA has already made the decision to cut ties with UAB in the aftermath of losing the football program. Each Conference USA member must be a member in all sports, so the loss of football hurt UAB in that area, but if the school acts quickly to pretend it was all a bad dream then perhaps there is a chance Conference USA might reconsider its decision, which it should if UAB commits to bring football back to life. UAB will have already lost out on one recruiting cycle entirely, and now whatever football staff is available will have to sell recruits that there really is a stable future at the school. That might be a tough pitch to take too seriously right now.

UAB supporters recently raised $6 million specifically to fund football. One study following the shutting down of the program revealed football was financially viable, which disputed the original logic for shutting the program down in the first place.

Free UAB.

UPDATE (4:35 p.m.): Here is a copy of the letter shared by Watts, courtesy of UAB;

Students, faculty and staff,
As you likely know, we are anticipating receipt on May 15 of the College Sports Solutions (CSS) review, commissioned by the Athletic Assessment Task Force, of what CSS projects it would cost to invest adequately in our current athletics programs and reinstate and support football, rifle and bowling programs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The Task Force was also charged with determining what financial resources are needed beyond what UAB has previously committed to its athletic programs in order to reinstate a consistently successful football program and to determine if external, private funding exists to sustain such an effort.

Again, the report is due May 15, 2015. The UAB senior leadership team will be consulting with various stakeholders within the UAB community. We will consider the report’s findings, along with other important, valuable and mission-critical data, in order to make the best decision for UAB going forward, guided by our vision, mission and strategic plan.

We plan to make an announcement by June 1. This announcement will be made via our website, social media channels and by email when an official decision has been reached.

With best wishes,

Ray L. Watts

President

UAB linebacker brings helmet to graduation and leaves President Watts hanging

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UAB linebacker Derek Slaughter won the crowd at a graduation ceremony this week. The graduating senior brought his UAB football helmet to graduation and held it high as he walked to the stage to accept his diploma from the university. The crowd erupted in support of not just Slaughter, but the entire football program that was cast off by the university and the board of trustees.

That moment was great, it was touching. Then Slaughter scored one more point as he left UAB President Ray Watts hanging as he walked off the stage.

The disgraced university president was there to offer a congratulatory handshake to all UAB students graduating, but Slaughter refused to shake hands with Watts, who has become the target for so much criticism over the shutting down of the UAB Blazers football program despite a new report suggesting the program was financially viable.

In this video below you can see Slaughter make his way to the right of the stage to walk back to his seat. The image may be a little grainy, but you can see Watts extend his hand to shake hands, as Slaughter walks right on by.

Report: UAB delayed football shutdown announcement for fear of team boycott

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UAB is not going to be playing football in 2015. That unfortunate decision was made final shortly after the end fo the 2014 season, but the planning to shut the program down reportedly occurred well before the start of the season. UAB played a full college football season while leaders knew the program was going to be shut down.

According to a report by Al.com, a public relations firm put together a strategy for UAB to carefully announce the shutting down of three sports programs last September. Other documents reportedly suggest the school pushed back the announcement date. UAB made the decision public in early December, after UAB’s football season had come to an end. UAB did not receive an invitation to play in a bowl game despite meeting the NCAA win requirement.

Per the report, UAB had two different dates in September to announce the decisions to cut the programs. Wednesday, September 17, 2014 was designated as the announcement date on one draft of the strategic plan. Another list targeted September 30. Why was the decision made to push back the announcement dates? The fear of seeing the football players boycott was among the reasons.

From the Al.com report citing a memo from PR firm Sard Verbinnen to UAB director of media relations Jim Bakken dated September 5, 2014;

That memo offers “our basis for opposing a mid-season announcement.” It suggests the potential for “a critical mass of immediate transfer requests … where students refuse to finish out the season” or “a full team boycott.”

“If not effectively managed,” the memo says, “it is conceivable that UAB would not be able to field a competitive team – or any team.”

The memo also suggests the possibility that UAB football players “may react very badly if an announcement is made during the season.”

“Although we initially believed that an early- or mid-season announcement was best for students, upon consideration of the potential for immediate withdrawals and the impact on team morale, we have adjusted our view,” the memo says.

If you thought the UAB mess could not have gotten any uglier, it just did with that memo. On November 11, 2014, UAB president Ray Watts said publicly no decision had been made on the future of the football program. Judging by the information obtained in the documents in the report, that was not the case. It looks as though a decision had been made by early September, and who knows how long before that.