It's been a quite a ride for the UAB family. Personally, I'd like to thank everyone who works for Underdog Dynasty or reads these articles for going on that ride with us.
The ride may not end this Monday but it appears it will take some sort of twist or turn. Right now, it appears the football, bowling and rifle programs will be reinstated. My head logically says that will happen, but as a 10-year UAB fan my heart still says no.
My heart has been hurt too many times by the Alabama Board of Trustees to expect anything but the worst. The last couple of days have been a complete whirlwind.
For most of the last two weeks, sources close to UAB strongly believed President Ray Watts had decided not to bring back the football, bowling and rifle programs. A rally held by the athletic task force may have swayed the momentum back toward the #FreeUAB movement.
Millions of dollars have been pledged to bring back those programs. Ray Watts had no choice but to honor those pledges because they were handled through UAB's own athletic department. There was no way to use the "Money is not in the bank" excuse again.
Watts has not publicly said the number needed to bring back the programs. It's been widely speculated that is why Jimmy Filler and a group of Birmingham businessmen did not go public with their donation pledge. The fear was they would go public and the UAB administration would simply state a number higher than what was raised.
Filler and his associates held a business meeting with Watts to tell him that number face to face. One can imagine they mentioned some other things that their money would go to if the programs were not brought back. I can assure you those things were not UAB related.
There's another problem ahead for Ray Watts and the BOT. The remaining vice presidents who were behind Watts have flipped their thoughts about the sports programs. UAB medical alumni association president Dr. Pink Folmar was and still is a Ray Watts guy. But he too has switched his stance on UAB football, and the Blazer faithful have the SEC of all things to thank for that.
Here is an excerpt from the AL.com article on Dr. Folmar:
Folmar is a guy who has long supported UAB President Ray Watts. He continues to do so, and to praise him as a "visionary." But he woke up thinking about Vandy and how much all that meant," he said. He came to a conclusion. Or two.
UAB needs President Ray Watts
But UAB needs football, too.
And it can have both.
C-USA has said UAB is gone without football in 2016, and no other worthwhile conference landing spots are opening up. On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, State Representative Jack Williams said he believed an email was about to go out announcing football was gone for good. That email would have allowed Watts and company to hide out over the three-day weekend.
Last week, Bill Carr of Carr Sports finally broke his silence. While it was no surprise he stood by his company's work, he may have destroyed what was left of his business reputation. Carr said the report was never done to validate ending programs at UAB. In doing so, he chose to completely ignore the leaked email his company sent to UAB discussing the elimination of football, bowling and rifle.
Carr then made an even bigger blunder. He said his report and the CSS report had "remarkably similar financial projections" even though there was a $25 million difference in arguably the five most important financial sections in the reports. Probably not the PR Watts and the BoT were looking for.
Which leads us to now
I fully believe Ray Watts is now on board with returning the three sports to UAB. The last obstacle is the Board of Trustees.
The same BoT that claimed they had nothing to do with the decision to end those programs apparently has to vote to bring them back. There have been whispers that the majority of the BOT supports reinstatement. The only problem is the most powerful members still oppose it.
But BoT members St. Johns, Johns, Espy and Bryant now have an entirely new problem. Two laws may be set to pass as the state's legislative session draws to a close. Last week the state house of representatives passed a bill that would force BoT members to undergo mandatory ethics and SACS training.
This upcoming week another bill is being introduced that would make closed meetings illegal for the BoT. Their secrecy would finally come with consequences. While the BoT opposes these laws and has tons of influence in Montgomery, most lawmakers will have to vote yes for these bills, and no amount of free Iron Bowl tickets may be able to stop them.
What are the BoT's options?
The BoT could force Watts's hand and not reinstate the programs. If they go that route there will be no more hiding the fact that Watts was carrying out their will from the start.
And all that pledge money will go toward BOT reform. A media blitz, set to hit local TV, radio and billboards, has already been launched:
The PR battle is becoming expensive, even for the deep-pocketed board members.
If the BoT allows the reinstatement of the football program, they will most likely never be able to control it again. Bill Clark is still here. A football foundation has been established and an indoor practice facility awaits. There is more support for football than ever before. The relaunched UAB football program could become what they always feared it could be, what Gene Bartow knew it could be.
In the meantime, all we can do is wait. I'll be alright though, I've already been waiting for 10 years.