By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Rep. Jack Williams (R-Birmingham) made headlines last year as he used his office as a legislator to build support for the return of the UAB football program. Rep. Williams even sponsored legislation in support of his cause.
Noticeably absent from the headlines was the fact that Jack Williams runs a UAB sports fan-based message board called Blazer Sports Report. The website is part of the Rivals.com network of websites dedicated to covering college athletics. Yahoo! acquired the Rivals network of websites in 2007 for an estimated $100 million.
Rivals websites tend to focus on football and basketball, rather than lower revenue sports like baseball and golf, which do not have the same level of fan involvement. While the Rivals site managed by Williams still covers UAB basketball, the absence of football almost certainly has affected its web traffic. Alabama is dominated by football fans, and basketball has long been considered a distant second in terms of fan interest.
It is unclear how or even whether Williams is compensated for his Rivals website. However, many such websites compensate their administrators per website visit or with a portion of the revenue. Others offer a flat-rate fee for managing and maintaining the site.
The website was still active at the time this article was published, and several of the permanent posts at the top of the message board were authored by “Jack Williams.”
On December 2, 2014, UAB President Ray Watts announced UAB had decided to terminate its football program. In response, Williams was outspoken and made frequent appearances on radio, television, and in print demanding the return of UAB football. The media appearances often referred to Jack Williams’ legislative role, but a search by this publication revealed no references to his role running the Rivals UAB sports website.
On March 19, 2015, Williams introduced HB 341, which would have required the University of Alabama system to establish and maintain a football program at the UAB campus. Although the bill had 38 co-sponsors, the bill failed to make it out of the Education Policy Committee.
On June 1, 2015, UAB announced it would reinstate its football program beginning in the 2017 season.
The State ethics laws prohibit a public official from using his official position to obtain personal gain for him or any business with which he is associated. Because the financial arrangement between Rivals and Williams is unknown at this time, one can only speculate on whether the actions taken by Williams in the aftermath of UAB’s decision to terminate its football program were for personal gain. However, it is almost certain that the Rivals UAB website has a higher value today because of the decision to restore UAB’s football program and the role Williams played in restoring it.