BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The following is a commentary blog from FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:
I must admit, I'm impressed. I'm impressed with the depth and commitment of those with College Sports Solutions who tediously interviewed dozens of UAB employees, boosters and former athletes about the feasibility of bringing back the sports of football, rifle and bowling. The good news for those who desperately want football reinstated? The CSS folks make clear that football can not only work on the UAB campus, it can thrive. The bad news? I sensed from reading the report that the CSS people were more concerned with finding a future conference for the UAB basketball team.
While UAB president Dr. Ray Watts and his staff peruse this report (the president insists his final decision football reinstatement will come June 1st), a recent groundswell of donations by area boosters must certainly make Dr Watts stand up and notice that returning UAB football to campus can indeed be financially feasible. While the CSS report claims that it would cost UAB about $14 million to fund football, bowling and rifle for the next five years, UAB supporter Justin Craft, along with the city of Birmingham has raised some $12 million, with much more to come. The CSS report does not offer advice on whether or not to bring back those sports. While the report indicates that UAB can thrive without a football program, it also indicates that perhaps it would thrive even more with one.
A few passages from the report:
There is little doubt that the strong consensus among the student body (graduates and undergraduates) faculty, and staff was that the elimination of the three sports, particularly football has been detrimental to the University. Football is often part of campus life that students and faculty envision, and has indeed been a part of campus life at UAB for more than two decades. These groups felt strongly that a well rounded athletics program is consistently a factor in the recruitment of students and faculty.
We were struck by the near unanimity of these campus groups in their opinion that the elimination of the sports was damaging to the notion of a stimulating campus environment and detrimental to UAB's own self respect. The loss of football, and any subsequent move without football to another conference will substantially diminish current and future Conference distributions, starting with the "lame duck" year (2015-16) in Conference USA. We believe this loss of revenue will easily surpass two million dollars per year. Further, we believe that, with the growth of the College Football Playoff and other related Conference USA revenue streams, that gap will widen. It is evident that the UAB expense budget for athletics overall, including football, is currently competitive within Conference USA, both as to salaries and operations. It is further evident that current university-provided financial support, through student fees and other cash subsidies, is not extraordinary within Conference USA or compared to other peer universities, as is evident in the benchmarking shown in this report.
The indirect benefits football has on a campus as a whole are difficult to quantify, but we reviewed numerous studies herein that found applications, enrollment, state appropriations and donations can be positively impacted by the presence of an FBS football program. Although the biggest returns are seen through appearances in bowl games and national championships, the benefits begin by merely fielding a team and steadily improving on the field (something UAB was doing last season). Conversely, discontinuing football has been found to have a negative impact on the university at large, including decreased enrollment (particularly for males) and even decreased ranking of men's basketball teams. Several universities which had previously discontinued football have restarted in recent years, and we invite UAB to reach out to those universities and discuss their experiences and reasoning.
And here's the most important comment from the report:
We believe both scenarios are viable in very different ways. The real questions become what does UAB want to be in intercollegiate athletics, in whose company does it want to stand, and what is the best fit to match the mission and vision of the University? We do believe that if a decision is in fact made to reinstate these sports, it would foster much good will and stimulate a substantial amount of spiritual and financial support from alumni, donors, ticket holders, friends, students, faculty and the community. It could create a unique opportunity, not only through that support, but also through unprecedented positive national attention to the University.
So the good news for those who want UAB football back? The CSS report, while not suggesting that Dr Ray Watts do so, clearly reveals that UAB can thrive with its return. But the report also takes time to discuss possible future conferences for the university, as come June 8th, Conference-USA officials are expected to officially announce that the Blazers will no longer be a part of CUSA without a football team. The three suggestions per CSS? The Missouri Valley, the Sunbelt and the Atlantic Ten conferences, a few of which sport schools without football (case in point Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference, which has become a basketball power years after dropping its football program).
So we go back to that question in the CSS report: "What does UAB want to be in intercollegiate athletics?" If I was calling the shots, it's a no-brainer: Bring back football, and through hard work from coaches, faculty and the community, reunite the Blazer family and help every athlete, coach, student and booster stand proud again. The catch? I'm not calling the shots. The man calling the shots is named Dr. Ray Watts. Let's hope this brilliant man who seems to lack people skills finds himself being a man of the people come June 1.