The University of Alabama at Birmingham, in the midst of closing the doors on its own football program, is working to give that sport an incredible gift; helmets and technology that can revolutionize head trauma in football. There are a couple ways that I look at this research. On one hand, "wow, how incredibly timely and innovative", and then I look at what is being done to UAB's football program and simply shake my head.
Arriving at this point began with one man, Dr. Dean Sicking.
In the last lap of the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt is killed as his car slams in to the wall at turn four. Shortly after the crash, NASCAR reaches out to Dr. Sicking for help in their crash safety. Dr. Sicking goes on to create SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers which are built to crumble upon impact. This type of technology was soon after translated to the hockey rink and eventually led to Dr. Sicking's current study in football helmets and concussions.
"The same thing can be done with helmets if we're willing to look at a system and apply all available technologies." said Sickings. His ideas and designs in these helmets have been praised by doctors as well as football officials.
It was in 2012 that Dr. Sicking joined UAB's school of engineering as a professor as well as Vice President of Product Development. In the midst of a time when the NCAA and the NFL were throwing flags and giving out fines to limit concussions, UAB was pouring money into research to limit concussions. The NCAA and NFL's method to limit concussions was to change the fabric of the game. UAB's solution was to keep the game the same but make it safer.
The technology and concept of Dr. Sickings work could change the trajectory of football. If UAB is currently in a "PR war" over the shutting down of football then isn't this news a bad look? How, exactly, can you justify closing down your football program entirely, when it has only been two years since you brought a very well-known scientist to work at your university with the express purpose of performing research into concussions in football and helmet design technology?
Surely UAB President Ray Watts and the Alabama BoT thought through the potential this had on the UAB "budget." I know it is a bit of a stretch, but just think about the impact - financially and otherwise - that University of Florida researchers developing what became Gatorade has done for that school. That could just as well happen here, which would sure go a long way to addressing the fiscal issues that were supposedly to blame.
President Watts said that "[a]s we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase." With these types of advancements and potential for income taking place in their own backyard, how can Watts explain away not having a football team?
It is already well known that athletics in general and football specifically is a loss leader meant to create gains in other areas. Now you have football related research that could make you millions and you eliminate your very own test subjects from being able to participate and increase your national profile?
Football is arguably the most popular sport in the United States as well as the state of Alabama, and UAB is currently working to revolutionize a product that every single football player wears. Knowing that, it seems ironic the two paths that are crossing in Birmingham.
One of life and one of death.
One of preservation, featuring brilliant engineering minds that are working to make a difference and a #FreeUAB movement which still has life and a strong thirst for preservation. The one of death consists of a board containing 17 members, most of whom have degrees from the University of Alabama, some 60 miles away from Birmingham.
I'm not saying by any means that this is a game changer for that movement, but this does give it some ammo. How can money and resources be poured in to the development of gear to help save football, something the state is "serious" about, and yet no resources are poured into football itself?
Sicking's work and the university that brought him there to do it deserve praise, but there has to be (and has been) a point where the gloves come off. To close down this program while the school is in the midst of work to revolutionize the game is illogical at best. President Watts, not many are in your corner. Do the right thing, change your legacy, and save UAB football in the same way your school is trying to save football in general.