UAB President Ray Watts has announced the university’s football program will end with the 2014-2015 academic year.
In an email to students and faculty, Watts said a review of athletic department finances shows that despite the on-field success of first-year coach Bill Clark, football is unlikely to generate a sustainable return relative to the necessary investment. According to university officials, $20 million of the $30 million athletic department’s budget is subsidized. If football were to continue, officials estimate an additional $49 million over five years would be needed to maintain a competitive program. This doesn’t include renovated or new facilities.
“I want the UAB family to know that this decision was not made lightly; that it has and will continue to be truly agonizing,” Watts said. “I know many will be disappointed. As a Birmingham native, UAB alum and sports fan, I am among them. I couldn’t be more proud of how well our student athletes and coaches have represented the institution.”
The university will also cut the bowling and rifle programs at the end of the current academic year. These decisions come as UAB announces the results of an athletic department strategic review.
Watts says eliminating football will allow the university to better support the remaining athletic programs. He says near-term priorities are to maintain NCAA Division I status and membership in Conference USA, although staying in that conference would require a waiver from the organization since Conference USA requires members to field a football team.
UAB Athletic Director Brian Mackin has been reassigned at his request to a newly created position of special assistant for athletics. Senior Associate Athletic Director Shannon Ealy will serve as interim athletic director.
Emotions Run Strong
Tears filled the eyes of football players as Watts met with them at the UAB football offices Tuesday afternoon to deliver the news. Coach Bill Clark later released a statement calling it one of the most difficult days of his coaching career.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we were in the process of building something special at UAB,” said Clark. “This goes further than our football program, the athletics department, or the university as a whole. This team is Birmingham — we represent Birmingham and this community.”
Birmingham Mayor William Bell, himself a UAB alumnus, told Al.com the decision is disappointing but the city doesn’t have options or leverage to convince university administrators to reverse the decision.
Birmingham Business Alliance President and CEO Brian Hilson also expressed disappointment at losing what he called a community asset.
“We expect there to be some negative impact on the local economy involving visitors to Legion Field and area hotels and restaurants,” Hilson said.
A day after saying he would look into the matter, Governor Robert Bentley, who is the ex-officio president of the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, said he respects Watt’s decision to end the football program.
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