Haisten: UAB became the first FBS college football team in two decades to close with a shocking announcement last week. Normally far from the spotlight, the University of Alabama at Birmingham suddenly became the talk of the nation. People far and wide who might have had trouble telling you what "UAB" stood for a few days earlier started talking -- and writing -- about this strange southern football tale.
I expected to read all about corruption, power struggles and politics. What came out, at least on a national level, was much different. Probably because they hadn't read anything we had written about it, which would have gotten them up to speed and pointed them in the right direction.
Seriously. Go get caught up. We can wait. We'll just sit here and watch all the word marks getting scrubbed off the Legion Field turf.
UAB President Ray Watts, in between getting cussed at by football players and street protesters, produced a report citing the official reason football had to go: it was just too expensive. Almost everyone has picked up by now that UAB's athletic finances aren't really out of the ordinary, which is where there's a split.
Rather than concluding there must be more to the story, media outlets across the country have gone down another path, namely this must mean a whole bunch of other programs are about to close too!!
Let's check the New York Times:
The University of Alabama-Birmingham said Tuesday that it was terminating its football program, becoming the first university in college sports' top tier to do so in nearly 20 years and providing the most visible sign yet that athletic officials throughout the country are considering radical options in the face of mounting financial burdens.
If supporting football is unsustainable for a school that played Mississippi State and Marshall tightly this season, administrators at smaller public institutions are likely taking notice. How much school spirit and goodwill are the programs at Georgia State and Idaho bringing to their respective campuses? Neither ranked in the top 75 in revenue in USA Today's report. This season, they combined to finish 2-21.
Or Fox Sports, in a detailed breakdown of the much-discussed numbers:
Meanwhile, projections for increased revenue hover around $1 million annually. Without an expected increase in ticket sales or donations, institutional support or student fees would have to make up the difference.
This is only the beginning
Which begs the question: if UAB's finances look so similar to its peers, where are those institutions going to get the money to continue on at this level? The most likely options: increase student fees, increase institutional support or cut sports.
With the enormous cost of having a football team and the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots in college athletics, it's inevitable that other schools will realize they simply can't afford to stay on the gridiron.
If anything, UAB's decision this week to throw in the towel on its money-draining program might make it easier for others to follow suit.
The first signs of these coming seismic shifts arrived earlier this week, when the University of Alabama-Birmingham announced that after this season, it was discontinuing the school's 19-year-old football program, to the considerable (and vocal) consternation of the current players, who spent much of Tuesday screaming at the school's president. There are conspiracy theories around Alabama that the decision had something to do with Bear Bryant's son being on the University of Alabama's Board of Trustees.
There are others, but you get the idea. I'm not trying to bedevil the national media or say these writers are lazy, these stories are very well researched. But there is little evidence outside of this unique case to suggest it's tied to a coming sea change in college sports.
First off, there's the simple fact no college football team has been shut down in almost 20 years. Obviously, if UAB hadn't closed last week the streak would continue, and even if two or three did close over the course of two decades it wouldn't necessarily signal a national trend.
Quite the opposite actually. Universities across the country are tripping all over themselves to see who can start a team first.
FBS teams have sprung up at Old Dominion, Georgia State, Texas-San Antonio, South Alabama and UNC-Charlotte in the last several years. A handful of others have jumped up a division, and even more are cropping up at lower levels. The state of Georgia is averaging one new football team almost every other season right now.
Nic: There's no way to predict the future, but that's a lot of schools who are going to look foolish if there's a coming rush to drop football teams. It's widely known the vast majority of college sports programs lose money each year (though even that stat is debatable). For better or worse, football programs are seen as marketing tools for their respective schools, a fact that hasn't changed in decades.
What's worse, the math that the report, and subsequently the football decision, was based on was flat-out wrong. Case in point:
However, a closer look at the underlying numbers reveals that is almost certainly not the case. To the contrary, axing the sport is a much closer fiscal call than the CarrSports report suggests, and could actually cost the school money. Moreover, the numbers also show that no matter what happens at UAB, no one should expect a subsequent wave of FBS bankruptcies.
There are all sorts of bad things going on here. This breakdown by Vice Sports suggests that UAB officials were either too stupid to do the math correctly, or too focused on ending the program to care if anyone noticed that they fudged the data. Neither of those is a good thing.
And those numbers are indeed fudgy. The budget deficit was created in part by the fact that keeping football necessitated adding a women's sport - in their report, they chose swimming and diving. It just so happens that swimming and diving is one of the more expensive sports you can add, both in terms of facilities and in terms of liability. That means that some of the bad math involved in this report was which numbers they chose to include.
Haisten: Yeah, it's clear UAB isn't the tale of a typical mid-major who realized football wasn't working anymore. Whatever UAB's finances and fan support are, it stands to reason they'd be a lot better under a few years of Jimbo Fisher and a sparkling on-campus stadium. Essentially, over the last decade the program's legs were cut from under it, then it was killed because it couldn't walk.
UAB football was cut supposedly following a year-long study of its finances called the CarrSports Report, a report that we pointed out expressly mentions the football program and its financial burden twice in the first paragraph.
Even the year-long timeline raises questions. UAB signed its last coach to a three-year contract ending in 2016, and had no non-conference games scheduled beyond that year. Many programs already have games scheduled into the middle of the next decade. They renewed their stadium lease (the city owns Legion Field) this past summer, and they only renewed it for one year. There's a clear, systematic pattern of behavior at hand that points to someone not having this program's best interests in mind.
Nic: I think there might be something else, as well. They needed to add a sport to become Title IX compliant, right? This means that they haven't been compliant with TItle IX at any point in recent history. The bowling program was only three years old when it was cut, which means that four years ago they were even further from compliance.
Now, I know that we might make a shorter list if we counted the number of FBS athletic departments that are Title IX compliant, but this is really bad. First of all, it would mean that Will was right when he said that administrative incompetence and/or Title IX noncompliance is usually the issue. Turns out it may well be both in this case. Further still, it would mean that this move has been a lot longer in the making than we thought.
Sure, there are any number of cheap women's sports you could add in order to balance out your participation numbers. But I went through this at my alma mater (who also had been Title IX compliant since... never). As our athletic director said then, no matter how you crunch the numbers it is always easier to subtract than to add.
The compliance is a grey area, but perhaps UAB was in danger of some noncompliance penalties, and were scrambling at first to figure out a way to add women's sports to get balanced without burning a whole bunch of money.
Since (as Vice pointed out) they didn't appear to have a strong grasp of how that money worked, they kept scrambling until they realized that the simplest solution was to kill their most expensive sport, eliminate a few other sports since a football drop would allow that, and then count their money afterward.
I could be wrong, and I hope I'm wrong, but what if I'm not?