By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
College Football is the biggest sport in Alabama. The Birmingham – Hoover – Cullman Metropolitan area is the most populated area of the State. The University of Alabama in Birmingham is the largest employer in the State of Alabama. Given the number of students at UAB, the number of people who work at UAB, the number of people who live within 55 miles of UAB, and the football fervor that exists in Birmingham (once known as the “Football Capital of the South”) starting a major college program at UAB seemed logical to many people when legendary basketball coach Gene Bartow (who then doubled as athletic director) started UAB football. Somehow it never really worked and UAB never became the major football power that the University of Alabama and Auburn University have been for decades.
Now both ESPN and USA Today are reporting that the University of Alabama in Birmingham may finally pull the plug on UAB football. UAB has been studying the viability of football for weeks.
UAB coach Bill Clark told ESPN’s Joe Schad on Sunday, November 30 that he believes the school’s football program is about to be shut down.
Coach Clark said, “I think it’s going to happen. Unless something changes before the weekend ends, I think it’s over. I think the odds are very high it ends this week. To shut the doors? That’s sad.”
Bill Clark is UAB’s first year head coach. The former Jacksonville State Head Coach has led UAB to a 6 and 6 record and its first bowl eligible season since 2004.
The Blazers defeated longtime rival Southern Miss 45-24 in Hattiesburg on Saturday afternoon to reach the 6 win mark needed to receive a potential bowl invitation. Quarterback Cody Clements threw three touchdown passes, Running Back Jordan Howard ran for a career-high 262 yards, and J. J. Nelson added a 99-yard kickoff return; but most Alabama football fans were preparing for their Iron Bowl Party.
The program has never been able to sell out and has struggled to fill the stadium despite thousands of free tickets to home games purchased by the City of Birmingham. Supporters blame the aging Legion Field and the perceived danger of the neighborhood that surrounds the stadium.
UAB officials attempted to submit plans to the Alabama Board of Trustees, who oversee both UAB and the University of Alabama (in Tuscaloosa), to build a new stadium on UAB’s campus. The Board refused to even consider the ambitious plan. The University President was replaced shortly after that episode. UAB supporters have been critical of the Alabama BOT’s perceived lack of support for UAB athletics for years.
Efforts by the Alabama Political Reporter to get official word from UAB officials has not been successful.
The University of South Alabama has been mentioned as a possible replacement for UAB in Conference USA. USA Today is reporting that Conference USA will drop UAB in all sports if they drop football.
Bill Clark has two years left on his contract and UAB has two more years of football games scheduled. Clark asked for an extension. The University has declined to enter into negotiations with Clark and has not scheduled any out of conference games beyond 2017. Neither has it denied reports that the University is contemplating ending football, which is heavily subsidized through student fees. Clark has said that he will not return for another season without an extension.
The loss of UAB football would be a blow for the City of Birmingham which has struggled to establish an identity as a destination city.
State Representative John Rogers (D from Birmingham) has threatened to create a separate board of trustees for UAB if the Board moves against the Birmingham University’s football team; but given the makeup of the legislature it is doubtful that that legislation could pass in next year’s legislative session.
Multiple media sources are reporting that UAB Athletics Director Brian Mackin has been terminated in advance of the announcement that the football team will be disbanded.