A few weeks back - as word about the shuttering of UAB football began to leak out and it became increasingly obvious that Georgia Southern was not going to get a waiver for a bowl game - the website FootballScoop.com suggested a novel idea: the two should set up their own exhibition game.
The idea had some merit in principle and spirit. Both teams were technically bowl eligible through the number of wins. Both teams were on the outside looking in for post-season play after very emotional seasons (albeit for different reasons). Both teams are filled with players who deserved to play one more game for their respective schools.
For Georgia Southern, its the seniors who were denied a shot at the FCS postseason last year and an FBS bowl game this season even after an undefeated conference championship season. For UAB, it is every player on the team who have given their all for UAB football and have had it ripped out from under them through seemingly nefarious dealings.
Yesterday there was a post on Reddit that indicated Georgia Southern had - in fact - attempted to make this idea a reality. We were first alerted to this through a tweet by @michaelsfoster:
Apparently Georgia Southern reached out to UAB to try to organize a non-bowl friendly vs. the Blazers, but were denied by NCAA.— Mike Foster (@michaelsfoster) December 9, 2014
When I followed up with him for his source on the matter, he pointed me in the direction of the above Reddit post. The message purported to contain a message from Georgia Southern athletic director Tom Kleinlein discussing the idea of Georgia Southern and UAB playing a final game. It stated
"I am saddened by what has happened to the Football program at UAB. Our President and myself began to discuss this very idea last week. I reached out to the NCAA through our compliance office and was informed that we would not be eligible to play in such an event which would be considered a 13'th game. I appreciate your desire to reward the young men by trying to have one more game. I know my news doesn't help I however wanted you to know we were thinking of you in Birmingham.
While I can't say with absolute certainty that the message in the Reddit post is 100% authentic, I was able to confirm through the Georgia Southern athletic department that this chain of events did happen. Tom Kleinlein and Georgia Southern did go through their compliance office to research the possibility of playing a game against UAB to end the 2014 football season.
The problem is that Georgia Southern is still ineligible due to the school being in a transition status. According to NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168
In bowl subdivision football, a member institution shall limit its total regular-season playing schedule with outside competition during the permissible football playing season in any one year to 12 contests (games or scrimmages), except as provided for member institutions located in Alaska and Hawaii, under Bylaw 17.28.2, and except as provided for all members under Bylaw 22.214.171.124.
Because the Eagles played a 12 game regular season, they are ineligible for any 13th game, even a "friendly" exhibition with UAB. So, Georgia Southern found themselves right back where they started from: the team would need to apply for a waiver for this 13th game. Georgia Southern previously applied for a waiver to the post-season eligibility rules and was denied.
It was a valiant effort and idea, even if it was likely doomed from the start. I applaud Tom Kleinlein and Dr Brooks Keel (Georgia Southern University President) for considering the idea and reaching out to discover its feasibility.
There are other bowl eligible teams that will be left at home this season, though. Fellow Sun Belt Conference team Texas State will spend their second straight season bowl eligible with no bowl to attend. It is likely the NCAA would deny a game between the Bobcats and UAB due to there being no certified post-season bowl game location for them to play in, but it would be nice to see UAB and another team left at home play a final game. It could be something as simple as a "friendly" in Birmingham to see the team off. I guarantee you it would be very well attended.
The UAB football team and its fans deserved so much better than what happened to them last week. It is a shame that their players will not be able to suit up one last time to play for their school. It is nice to see that other football programs felt their pain and attempted to take steps to send them off the way they deserve: with one last tilt on the gridiron.
Note: A special thanks to Jon Morse of Bring On The Cats for helping me with some of the particulars on post-season play in various NCAA divisions to clarify parts of what I wanted to include in this article.