On Wednesday evening, news broke about UAB's football program potentially on the verge of trouble.
UAB football started as a Division III team in 1991, and they only moved up to Division I in football in 1993 because the NCAA said that they had to compete in the same division in all sports and their other sports were already there.
In the last 20 years, we have seen UAB grow both as a campus and a football program, but they have continually been held down by "Big Brother", or the Alabama Board of Trustees. Numerous accusations have surfaced that have negatively affected the program due to the actions of the Board, stemming from controversial decisions such as denying UAB the chance to hire Jimbo Fisher and by allegedly refusing them the right to build an on-campus stadium.
Louisiana Tech is part of the University of Louisiana System, which includes other schools in the state like UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe, Grambling State and Nicholls State, among others. The Bulldogs have competed in football for over 100 years and moved up to what is now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision back in 1988.
In 2012, there was lots of discussion and even a study commissioned on the impact of merging Louisiana Tech into the LSU System. Benefits cited in partnering Tech with LSU assets in Shreveport were to "mobilize the assets of the three major public institutions in the region: LaTech, LSU-S, and the LSU Health Sciences Center Shreveport (LSUHSC-S)."
The benefits sounded good, as far as being in a system with more money and more assets. The dangers are pretty obvious if you look down I-20 a little ways. How did UAB ever get the go ahead to move up to D1-A in 1996? If Louisiana Tech ever moved under the LSU System, what would happen if they tried to expand their stadium or pay a coach $1 million dollars?
Louisiana Tech President Les Guice has stated that his goal is to get Tech's enrollment up to 15,000. With that kind of enrollment increase, there would be more money coming into the university and more potential fans at the games. More students also means more future alumni, so it is likely that athletic giving and attendance would go up even more in the future. Guice has also talked about different revenue streams the university can tap into with Tech's research park, where the university can partner with the private sector.
There has also been talk in Ruston about renovating and expanding the press box inside Joe Alliet Stadium, bowling in the north end zone to increase seating, and continuing the expansion that was started with the current end zone project. Right now, Louisiana Tech can dream big and there is excitement around what the future holds.
In Birmingham, a much bigger market that northeast Louisiana, there should be just as much optimism about UAB and the potential of the school and its athletic programs. For now, UAB still has football and they are playing well under new coach Bill Clark. Let's hope Saturday's game is another good one in Birmingham for a long time to come.
There is no reason UAB can't rise to the level that UCF or Boise State have over the last 15 years. They have a big market and they are right in the middle of very rich recruiting ground. Blazers fans will probably always be looking over their shoulder, wondering just how big they will ever be allowed to grow. Louisiana Tech has its own constraints: small market, budget cuts, too many Division 1 schools in one state, but just think how bad it would be to be in a system where "Big Brother" is always watching.
Can you imagine being told that you aren't allowed to pay a coach market value or being told you couldn't build a new stadium, despite the fact that your stadium looks like the Gettysburg battlefield circa 1863? (Ok, that might be a little extreme of a comparison, but Legion Field needs an overhaul)
What if private donors were stepping up to foot most of the bill?
Louisiana Tech does fall under the State of Louisiana Board of Regents that is over both the ULS and LSU systems. With many LSU alums in high places in Louisiana, rules and regulations could potentially be set up to produce the same negative effect on Louisiana Tech or Louisiana-Lafayette that is being projected on UAB from the Alabama Board of Trustees.
In real life though, these Louisiana schools are allowed to flourish, with Louisiana Tech in the middle of a remarkable turnaround year, and Louisiana-Lafayette looking for a fourth straight New Orleans Bowl win. It's the type of magic consistency that UAB fans wish could happen to their program.