The Tragic Tale of the Blazers’ Unnecessary Death Penalty

College football is an important part of life to many people for many reasons, and to some people it means everything. To football players at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, life is about to change dramatically, and as a whole, it isn’t for the best. There are arguments on both sides of the issue, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a shame personal politics had to ruin a program and potentially a great deal of lives. It isn’t a death penalty from the NCAA, but one brought down by the heads of their own university system, but that sure as Hell doesn’t make this any better for the UAB Blazers.

For those not in the know, UAB is dropping its football team at the conclusion of the season. UAB is bowl eligible this year for the first time in a decade and for only the second time ever. For their sake, I hope the Blazers pick up their first bowl win this season, because the death of the program is tragic. The mainstream media is reporting that the reason for dropping the program has to deal with financials and the money just not working out (this is what we are being fed by the University of Alabama Board of Trustees). And to a point, that is correct, UAB is losing money on their football program. It’s not as though they’re an anomaly, however; athletic departments at many schools in the Group of 5 conferences are operating at a deficit. Do you expect Cincinnati to close down their football program soon? How about Marshall? Fresno State? No, those programs aren’t going away, so what makes UAB an exception? Hell, there are plenty of major teams which are operating their football programs in the red too. It’s sad to say, but UAB was destined to fail and it has been that way for a long time, and I really hope the U of A Board of Trustees is proud of themselves for their work.

Make sure that you don’t confuse the Board of Trustees with the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, because while supporters of that particular university are at the forefront of this issue, UAT itself is not at fault. Many of these issues stem from one particular board member, Paul “Little Bear” Bryant, Jr. Yes, the son of legendary Alabama head football coach Bear Bryant has been using his position of power to hold down UAB. Why is that, you may ask. It’s a convoluted story, one which very few people, if any, are truly qualified to tell, myself included. Back in the day, it’s speculated (and somewhat widely accepted) that Bear Bryant did not like UAB and he did not approve of its existence. There have been people who, for years, were worried about the poaching of recruits and resources, etc. For one, this was a foolish notion from the start. Secondly, it signaled a difficult future for the program when it was just getting started. With Little Bear at the top of the food chain now, it only spelled more doom for the Blazers.

UAB only started playing football during the 1990’s, so it was not a program filled with decades of history. Truthfully, it was a program filled with multiple decades of teams that were mediocre at best. That alone isn’t a good reason to cancel football, however. Little Bear has an axe to grind with UAB today and has shown bias and, in reality, has attempted to destroy the Blazers football team for years now. Bryant did all that he could to prevent UAB from hiring Jimbo Fisher when there was already an agreement in place with him (yes, the same one that just won a National Championship with Florida State). Because a bad hire back in 2006 and a shady hire of a man just 10 months before the (apparently premeditated) collapse of the program were much better courses of action for the team. He also worked tirelessly to block the building of a new stadium for the team. No wonder people aren’t going to games; you’re forcing a team to play in a terrible, crumbling facility (Legion Field) in a bad neighborhood. But no, an on-campus stadium isn’t worth it, right?

If you can come up with a good reason why he is a credible person to keep on a Board of Trustees for a university system, please let me know, because I can’t think of a single damn good reason other than the fact that his daddy was a BFD several decades ago. A man with a ridiculous bias and questionable morals (note the end of the already-linked CBS article) is a member of a self-appointed board of trustees, which oversees a program that he hates. Sounds like a Hell of a combination to me.

Little Bear isn’t the only person who is systematically destroying UAB’s football program, however. Blame can be spread all around on this one. Governor Robert Bentley’s approach to the whole situation has been anything but reassuring, and the rest of the U of A Board of Trustees surely has been pushing for the demise of UAB Blazers football as well. The President of UAB, Ray Watts, is also to blame here, because he’s been mum publicly about the entire situation, until of course he told all the players that the team is going to be killed off. There is a multitude of people who can be blamed here, but that doesn’t make the situation any better.

There are plenty of student athletes who are in school just so that they can play sports. That is no doubt the case for plenty of players for the UAB football team. But there are also players who are taking advantage of their football scholarship to gain an education that under different circumstances they wouldn’t be able to get. This is an opportunity for many young people to succeed, and it’s being stripped from them. Yes, they will have the ability to transfer without having to sit out a year, but there is absolutely no guarantee that another team would bring them on. For many of these students, their dreams of playing football at the collegiate level are dead. This doesn’t just affect the players though. This affects the people of Birmingham, who undoubtedly still benefit from the boost that a game-day economy brings in. This affects the people who work concessions at the games and who hold various positions within the team. This affects the members of the marching band. You may think it’s silly, but it’s a prestigious position to be a member of a college football marching band.

Hell, consider the impact this is going to have on revenue for the university now. This decision has a huge effect on alumni and their connection to UAB, as well as the entire U of A system. It’s very clear how much alumni connect with their alma mater through athletics, and you’re definitely not helping by dismantling the football program. Thos alumni donate a lot of money, money which the school will stop seeing now without the team (an argument about the sentiments behind that can be saved for another day). And what about the future of UAB in Conference USA? It is a C-USA requirement that all schools sponsor football, so UAB will have to leave the conference with the death of its football team. That affects every single other athletic team that UAB fields, specifically basketball. Yes there are other mid-major conferences, but none that will take them on that are bigger than Conference USA. So you claim that you’re killing off the team because of the way the numbers work out, yet you’re going to end up costing your university even more income. If you really want to talk about economic impact, compare these two articles, one from UAB and one from Alabama (Tuscaloosa), and the financial impacts of each school on the state of Alabama. Spoiler alert: the results will likely surprise you. A great deal of the economic impact from UAB comes from their medical center, which should be noted is also declining in quality according to people more familiar with the situation. With all of that in mind, does it really make a whole lot of sense to cut the football team?

Some people don’t see it or understand it, but sports can be a very important part of life. It’s a huge deal to me, obviously, and it’s a huge deal to all of these now-displaced athletes. There are a lot of trivial things to get wrapped up in when it comes to sports, from blind homerism to the point of not even enjoying the game, to Twitter arguments with people who need to resort to baseless ad hominem attacks to feel good about themselves and their own insecurities. Is this stuff important? In the long run, no. Sports to these kids may really be everything though. Some players may get a chance to play out their eligibility elsewhere, some players may stay at UAB and give up on football and just become students, but for some people this could really change their lives for the worse. Personal politics and ridiculous long-standing vendettas, corruption and a generally unfair environment has doomed the UAB Blazers football team. It’s a shame for the players, for fans of UAB and for fans of college football as a whole. It’s unfortunate what is happening in Birmingham, but don’t worry, the self-appointed trustees of the University of Alabama system got what they wanted, and that’s just better for everyone, right? It doesn’t really matter; it’s not as if they give a damn about us or our opinions anyway. UAB is bowl eligible this season, and you had better believe that I’m puling for them to get a bowl invite, and I’ll be rooting for them until the bitter end in hopes that they might go out in a Blaze of glory.

 

For more of my writings, visit Per audacia ad astra. You can also follow me on Twitter.

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