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UAB Is the First To Fold, Won't Be the Last

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Feel bad for UAB. It sure isn't fair. But understand this: the Blazers are only the first casualty of College Football as Big Business.

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

"In which imminence of an event creates a kind of black hole" - Jean-Claude Izzo

Man, that video. You've got to feel something.

As removed as I am from the UAB Blazers locker room, from the city of Birmingham, and all the individual lives this decision will impact, the emotion in that video still serves up a swift punch to the gut.

The players' responses are appropriate. They no longer get to live out their dreams on Saturdays lined up next to their brothers. The sacrifices they have made are for not. Promises have been broken. It's not fair.

The UAB students' response, although callous to some, is appropriate.  Your university is just that. Yours. In a region of the country where football is king, present and future UAB alumni no longer have that coveted weekly source of pride.

So is UAB President Ray Watts a manipulative, penny pinching stooge looking to crush young peoples' dreams? Maybe. I don't know the man personally. But maybe UAB dissolving its program is a product of something more powerful at work here.

You have two competing forces in that meeting room. President Watts and his goons, wearing suits, represent the political and financial side of the major college football equation. Sitting in front of Watts you find the players, wearing UAB football gear, representing the passion, commitment and love of the game found on the other side of the CFB equation.

The suits have won, because the suits always win. Which is why this entire saga resonates so deeply. UAB football is the first casualty, but it certainly won't be the last.

The financial incentives for Division 1 football success are enormous. Of course you have the revenue traced directly back to the football team: the tickets, merchandise, television shares, bowl bids, etc. But success also produces an uptick in enrollment applications, mobilizes boosters, and gives the university free advertising. This in turn increases the quality of the university, and the growth becomes somewhat self sustaining.

As appealing as those incentives are, such self sustaining "success" is rare, and does not come without a hefty investment. To throw your hat in the ring, it takes for the university to financially commit to top level facilities, a competitive stadium, and a reputable head coach in addition to the resources that coach then needs to produce wins. But wins are not guaranteed. Neither are those financial returns on the investment. Football becomes a gamble, and most certainly not a cheap one.

As the value of college football increases, that gamble will continue to become more daunting. There is no longer an in-between option for schools like UAB. The true financial standing of the university seems to be a bit murky, yet there's no doubt in my mind that the resources necessary for a 2015 football season are there to be had.

But what about 2025? Or 2035? The cost of doing business is only going to go up. What will it take for UAB to keep pace? Is it worth it? Given the rise of South Alabama and Troy plus the ever present shadows cast from T-Town and the Plains, today seems as good a day as any to pull the plug.

"Why don't the Blazers drop down to FCS? Why can't they play NAIA? These kids just want to play ball, y'all!"

Because at the FBS level, you're clawing tooth and nail to get a sliver of a very large pie. At the FCS level and below, there's is no pie to be had. All those side-benefits from a relevant football program? They don't exist if you aren't playing with the grown ups.

This is why schools like the University of Massachusetts and Georgia Southern have made the move to FBS. They're all in on getting that sliver. Georgia State University and South Alabama have spawned football programs out of thin air hoping football will legitimize their universities to the masses.

And here's the thing. It can work. My west coast buddies not only know that Georgia Southern exists, but they're taking issue with the Eagles being iced out of a bowl game.

But maybe Georgia Southern is the exception, and UAB knows they have a losing hand. Not every school is in a position to support a football team the way it needs to be supported. Which is why I believe UAB is simply the first domino. Schools at the Group of 5 level that aren't tied to that precious Power 5 television money will be forced to make a decision: keep throwing money at the program hoping for a return, or fold up shop and play soccer.

Many of these football programs represent public schools. In such an instance, hemorrhaging money to support a Division 1 football program that is not generating the necessary revenue, let alone ancillary benefits, is blatantly bad business.

Whether they had to or not, UAB has chosen soccer. Other schools are going to choose soccer, too. Not because they want to, but because continuing to play football would be doing everyone involved a disservice.

Is it fair? Not in the slightest.

But college football is a booming enterprise hurtling through space towards stacks of countless riches. As a result the game is changing. Losing a program here or there is a small price to pay.