Perhaps you thought everything was hunky-dory in the land of dragons after UAB decided to bring football back. Grantland showed the Blazers some love. The athletic department presented plans to upgrade athletic facilities(although, notably, no new football stadium). Surely you don't have to worry about the program's return, right?
Well, you might want to start paying attention again. Something's rotten once again in the city of Birmingham, and it starts with a student vote to really-100%-we're-really-absolutely-definitely-sure-this-time bring back UAB football.
An Unnecessary Vote
#freeuab USAGA calls vote to support $25 dollar increase in student fees to support Football bowling and rifle teams— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) September 5, 2015
Sounds fairly innocuous, right? Well, hold on a second.
A few months ago, the UAB Student Government Association already approved a student fee increase for bringing back UAB football. Overwhelmingly. So what's this vote the SGA called?
#freeUAB USAGA says vote to show BOT wants vote— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) September 5, 2015
In case this tweet isn't making sense (and we don't blame you if it doesn't), Kevin Scarbinsky at AL.com has a detailed rundown for you.
In layman's terms, the SGA called for the entire student body to vote on whether they approve the SGA's approval of the student fee increase to bring back football. Despite the fact that the SGA, who presumably represents the student body, already made their vote clear.
So why bother with yet another vote on something that should've already been decided? Because the University of Alabama system Board of Trustees wants it.
#freeUAB but some Blazer supporters believe this is another hurdle the BOT is putting up to block football's return— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) September 5, 2015
And this is where the plot thickens. Those #FreeUAB supporters certainly got some ammo this week from UAB's SGA president.
UAB USGA Garrett Stephens says they opposed student vote on return of football bowling and rifle teams.— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) September 9, 2015
If you read the full language of SGA's "welcome back" letter to students on September 1, it certainly sounds like this vote was forced through (emphasis mine:
Though the university has committed to returning these sports, there is still one final step to ensuring their success and sustainability. The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees would like to hear from the student body directly that they are willing to support the return of the three sports. On September 28th and 29th, there will be a student vote to support USGA's Resolution. We ask that you vote yes to support the sustainability of football, bowling and rifle at UAB.
So the completely unnecessary "request" the BOT asked for certainly doesn't appear to be optional. Except the BOT is denying that characterization up and down.
#freeuab still USAGA Pres Stephens told Chancellor Witt wanted vote. Stephens told Pres Watts vote not needed since USAGA voted on increase— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) September 9, 2015
#freeuab Stephans told BOT owned UAB and BOT could order a student vote. Vote set for Sept 29th and 30th.— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) September 9, 2015
#freeuab UAB VP of Financial Affairs Allan Bolton says BOT did not force student vote on activity fee increase football bowling and rifle— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) September 9, 2015
Scarbinsky specifically notes that Watts told Stephens that the BOT's "suggestion" was actually an edict, and that the vote was not optional. So either Bolton--and by extension, the BOT and Watts--or Stephens is outright lying here, because according to the university bylaws, that vote is not required.
Or perhaps Watts is mistakenly viewing Board of Trustees "requests" as not optional, which would suggest outright incompetence on his part. Given what we've seen from Watts, the BOT, and their PR firm during the public relations fiasco of shutting down football, the "Watts is incompetent" explanation appears to be highly unlikely.
#freeuab Bolton says in statement it's a part of nationwide trend students vote on activity fee increases.— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) September 9, 2015
Specifically, he referenced schools like Texas State and South Alabama as having voted on student fee increases, except none of those schools had to deal with their school wrongly shutting the program done under highly suspicious circumstances.
Bolton's full explanation for the "request" is also blatantly disingenuous to the point of being nonsensical. Per Scarbinsky:
"Without a student vote," Bolton wrote, "the headlines may read, 'Trustees vote to increase student fees at UAB to bring back football, bowling and rifle.' In similar situations where new student fees to support athletic programs were 'imposed' by a Board, students were vocally opposed (Miami Ohio, USF, Ball State, UNM, Kansas). Such a backlash is predictable and avoidable with a student body vote."
Except the students have already had their voice represented by the SGA, which overwhelmingly voted 19-3 to approve the student fee increase. Sentiment on campus has been overwhelmingly in favor of doing whatever it takes to bring back UAB football, including increasing student fees. Not to mention the students were united in their voice of no confidence against President Ray Watts.
So the BOT is at minimum de-legitimizing the ability of the SGA to represent the student body. At maximum, they're also dragging their feet on UAB football's return despite overwhelming support from the community to bring it back. Would the latter really surprise anyone at this point?
#freeuab Stephens hopes vote is not delaying contract for UAB Coach Bill Clark.Stephens and others wants contract on agenda BOT next week— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) September 9, 2015
An insulting contract offer (allegedly)
Sources very close to the situation have stated to us and to the UAB community that Bill Clark was offered a paltry one year extension at his current salary of $500,000 by UAB athletic director Mark Ingram. If that offer is true, then not only is that salary an insult to the man who decided to stick around Birmingham despite the tire fire that is UAB's administration, but it also adds instability to an already tenuous situation.
Clark's contract runs through the 2016 season and the extension would only keep him through the first year of football in 2017. Despite the fact that he led UAB to bowl eligibility and their best regular season since 2004. That would also give UAB the wherewithal to fire Clark if the 2017 team finishes with a losing record, which will be an inevitable outcome given the Blazers' roster turnover.
Normal college football programs don't do this.
Universities that are committed to the success of their football programs don't do this. But this is UAB, where incompetence and underhanded tactics constitute a state of normalcy.
Respected Associate AD Fired
Speaking of possible underhanded tactics, this happened on (surprise!) Friday:
Quick story. Senior associate AD Shannon Ealy confirms he's no longer working at UAB. Not his choice. http://t.co/LG7vnxfOAE— Kevin Scarbinsky (@KevinScarbinsky) September 11, 2015
Shannon Ealy is one of the good guys in college athletics. Can't imagine anyone thinking UAB would be better without him. FYI: It won't be.— Kevin Scarbinsky (@KevinScarbinsky) September 11, 2015
Ealy was a victim of a "restructuring" by Ingram. He also happened to be well respected by the #FreeUAB community and was well known as a supporter of football. Ingram has a right to make personnel decisions however he wishes, but given that he's already seen as a puppet of Ray Watts by many UAB supporters, this move comes off as tone deaf at best, and politically motivated at worst.
This is exactly what we've come to expect from UAB's leadership. At best, UAB's administration is still a shining example of public relations ineptitude. At worst, the school's leadership and the Board of Trustees are trying to kill UAB football (again) through the "death by a thousand cuts" strategy.
Better dig in, #FreeUAB. You're still in for one hell of a fight.