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Continuing To Propagate the Wrong Narratives for UAB Blazer Football

I know that op-eds are opinion pieces, but just because you have one doesn't mean that you should exist be correct.

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So... this happened a little bit ago. For those of you too lazy to click the link, the New York Times' Joe Nocera decided to write an opinion piece about the UA/UAB situation.

Some background on Nocera: he is a business columnist, and has held that role for the NYT for a decade. He's been doing Tuesday/Saturday Op-Ed duty for about four years now, despite getting dragged over the coals for some unnecessarily inflammatory comments he made in an op-ed piece less than six months after he started doing it.

As for his writing? Well, there's a March column that is talking about a new model to replace the old standard four-year brick-and-mortar university but also takes a pot-shot at college football's importance. Then there is his column where he uses all sorts of half-assed math to show why Rutgers is right to be having a fight over whether athletics should increase or decrease spending.

So you already have an idea of where his Alabama-riffic column will be going based on that information alone. However, the old diatribes he is relying on annoy the crap out of me, and I won't be done being annoyed until I've ripped it apart.


O.K., here we go...

Well, that didn’t last very long, did it?

Nope, you're right, it didn't, Joe. Six months is a pretty short span of time, especially compared with things like the Mesozoic era, where dinosaurs like you came from. Astute observation.

When a consultant concluded that the subsidy would have to more than double over the next five years for the football team to be competitive, Watts said, Enough. "We could not justify subsidizing football if it meant taking away from other priorities," he told me at the time.

Yup. And you believed Watts, hook line and sinker, despite zero actual evidence that such a "robbing from Peter to pay Paul" scenario existed. Thanks for correcting yourself, though. Oh, wait, you didn't.

The university seemed to me then — and seems to me now — exactly the kind of school that should be rethinking football. It did not have a long football tradition — the team had been around for only 24 years. Its last winning season was in 2004. Its fan support was tepid; playing in a stadium with a capacity of 72,000, it averaged fewer than 20,000 fans a game until last year, when the number jumped to 21,800.


O.K., so UAB should kill football because they do not have a long football tradition. You hear that Old Dominion, South Alabama, Georgia State, Texas-San Antonio and UNC-Charlotte? You too are exactly the kind of school that should completely rethink having football. Florida International, Florida Atlantic, and South Florida, you also are exactly that kind of school. Should we eliminate all eight of these programs? Of course not.

They haven't had a winning season since 2004. Well, better shut down Idaho, New Mexico State, Eastern Michigan, Tulane, North Texas and Washington State as well.

Also, let's completely ignore the fact that a non-Power Five team playing in a 72,000-seat stadium is absolutely idiotic. However, by that attendance logic, the entire Mid-American Conference and every Sun Belt team except Appalachian State, Louisiana, and Arkansas State should also be shut down. That gets us to 35 teams that should go away based on your logic, which serves to show how shallow and useless it is.

Need I remind you right now that we're, like, two paragraphs into this column? Criminy.

Besides, college sports, especially football, are getting more expensive...Schools in smaller conferences[...] have struggled to keep up, especially state schools whose budgets have been cut by their legislatures. USA Today does an annual ranking of university athletic department balance sheets, and you can clearly see this trend. Rutgers University had a $36 million deficit; the University of Connecticut, $27 million; the University of Massachusetts, $26 million; Eastern Michigan University, $25 million — and on the list goes.

Yes. College sports are getting more expensive, and schools are also getting better at disguising those costs (and revenues) within the numbers that they actually show to the public. Go ask Andy Schwarz how much athletics actually costs. Oh, those four programs you listed? Exactly two of them are even having a serious discussion about restructuring athletics, and that conversation has not even danced in the vicinity of eliminating football completely.

There are those, like Andy Schwarz[ ], who say that the subsidy reported by most universities is wildly overstated, and that schools get numerous benefits for having a football team. But that is not the argument that anyone in Birmingham made. Instead, they accepted the idea that the football team had to be subsidized — and that they had to raise the money.

I can't even begin to unpack the wrong here, but go ahead and run that paragraph by anyone who is part of #FreeUAB or a football supporter or a donor and see if you actually make it through the second sentence before they slap you.

This all ties back into Nocera's running dialogue that football is not the lifeblood of a university, contrary to what piles of research suggests. If you're going to point out that Pacific University "eliminated football in 1995 and lived to tell the tale," you should also point out that the Tigers brought back football five years ago. It's at the Division III level, certainly, but the fact that they resumed the program invalidates your entire reason for using them as an example.

If you want to disagree with what has gone on at UAB, I guess I can understand. There is a lot of perspective necessary to understand such a complex problem, most of which a non-native Alabamian wouldn't get. But please, for the love of all that is holy, stop boiling this down to the simplest of narratives so you can pretend the Blazers' situation is comparable to anything before it or after it.