No matter what happens on Monday, or whenever decision day comes for football, bowling and rifle at UAB, one thing is for certain: It needs to be done face to face with the cameras rolling and the lights on bright.
No avoiding the tough questions. Everyone deserves for this announcement to be as public as possible. Anyone who has followed the #FreeUAB situation knows that President Ray Watts and his PR team have a history of media blunders a mile long. Until we can physically see Watts behind a podium with a microphone in front of him, we can't be sure this will be handled right either.
When news first broke that UAB was seriously considering dropping football, the public relations nightmare at UAB began. As the rumors swirled for weeks, Watts and former athletics director Brian Mackin remained silent, leaving head football coach Bill Clark and his assistants on an island.
The players and coaches could already see the writing on the wall as Watts never addressed or visited the team at any point during the year.
When the rumors were at their peak, UAB soccer was supposed to be celebrating a huge achievement. A new soccer stadium was going to be built due in large part due to a generous donation from BBVA Compass Bank. Men's coach Mike Getman has built a powerhouse on the Southside of Birmingham. At a time when soccer has been growing by leaps and bounds in the state of Alabama, Getman has led the Blazers to nine NCAA Tournament berths and six conference titles.
UAB has also been the official host of the soccer Final Four the last two years at the Hoover Met, bringing tourism and national exposure to the region. So how was Getman rewarded for his accomplishments during his quarter of a century of dedication to UAB? His press conference to announce the new stadium was canceled and the news came through a press release instead.
Why? Most likely the fear of football questions. Getman was robbed of what should have been a crowning moment of his life's work at UAB simply for the fear of having to answer unwanted questions. One can imagine BBVA Compass was also jilted that their donation didn't get the local press it deserved.
Exhibit B & C
When Watts finally announced to the football team (in a most astonishing and cruel way) and media that the sport was disbanded he made another crucial error that has gone largely unnoticed. Watts may have made the announcement directly to the football team, but the women's bowling and rifle teams found out via email. Watts wouldn't address them until days later. Both deserved better.
The UAB men's basketball team hosted the C-USA tournament at the BJCC in Birmingham this year. Watts stayed away from the event, not even publicly addressing the fact that it was hosted until after the fact. Watts did make the trip to the NCAA tournament in Louisville to see the Blazers beat Iowa State.
He told reporters he stayed away from the C-USA tournament to not be a distraction, but came to the NCAA tournament games. I suppose it's better to distract the team on a national platform.
The Pattern Continues
When Mark Ingram was hired away from Temple to become the newest Blazer athletic director, the news was not announced at a press conference. instead, an email was sent to the media after 10:00 P.M. on a Friday night. One can only assume this was to avoid football questions. Nothing screams openness and diplomacy like shielding the man from his new job's media, fans and alumni on day one.
Just over a week ago, State Representative Jack Williams believed Watts was set to announce through an email that football, bowling and rifle would not return. Now Watts finds himself with his back against the wall. So much rides on him and the UA Board of Trustees bringing back the sports.
My plea to Watts and the BoT is simple: Whatever the news is, good or bad, face the media and the cameras. UAB SID Norm Reilly has overseen Olympic events, BCS title games and NCAA basketball tournaments. I'm sure he and his team can set up a safe and informative environment for a press conference.
To me, only one thing is for certain about Monday. All the athletic teams, students, faculty, alumni, fans and media deserve to hear the news straight out of Ray Watts' mouth. It's time to handle this issue like an adult and a professional.
I challenge Ray Watts and the BoT to quit hiding in the shadows and stand before the UAB family like people of character. History tells me I shouldn't hold my breath.