INTERVIEW: Big-Picture Perspective On Colleges Ending Football Programs

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UAB police officers guide President Ray Watts through a crowd of protesters outside the football offices after Watts informed players and coaching staff that the program would be discontinued. Watts and other administrators were jostled as shouting police officers stepped between them and the crowd. Some protesters screamed, cursed, and banged on UAB and police vehicles. Photo by Dan Carsen.

On December 2, the University of Alabama at Birmingham announced it is cutting its football, bowling and rifle teams after the 2014-2015 season, triggering intense emotions from students and the community. UAB President Dr. Ray L. Watts cited the high cost of keeping the programs competitive, especially football, as a factor in the decision. According to university officials, $20 million of the $30 million athletic department’s budget is subsidized. This is the first time in two decades a school of UAB’s size ended its football program.

While the reason for the cuts is the subject of some dispute, nationally, colleges and universities are struggling with the growing costs of maintaining competitive athletic programs. Some experts think UAB is at the forefront of a new trend. Malcolm Moran, the director of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University, has reported on college athletics for more than 30 years. He tells WBHM’s Dan Carsen why schools — especially those outside the five largest athletic conferences — might start scaling back costly collegiate athletic programs: