The first domino has fallen. Last Tuesday, UAB President Ray Watts announced that the university would be shutting down its football program.
Citing a formal study conducted by an outside consulting firm that concluded that the university's football program would need to dramatically increase revenues and its operating budget in order to remain competitive, President Watts stated that, "we have considered many options to fill this financial gap, including through philanthropic support; but our informed analysis of current and past support and interest concluded that the gap is simply too wide."
UAB's football program isn't (err, wasn't) steeped tradition. The school first started playing football in 1996. It's been put out to pasture less than twenty years later. Looking back with the irony afforded by hindsight, it's as if the athletic administration saw the fight for football as a loosing proposition from the very beginning. "We're here to stay" was the school's first-ever football focused rallying cry and slogan.
But for the video that went viral of the impassioned plea of one of the team's senior leaders putting President Watts to task for his decision to pack up the program, news of the death of football at UAB may have gone all but unnoticed.
Less than a day later, news broke that the University of Florida would pay a multi-million dollar buy-out to Colorado State University for the right to hire the latter school's head football coach to do the same job at Florida as he did for his former employer in Colorado.
Last week was a big week for news of buy-outs, as Twitter feeds detailed the multi-million dollar buy-outs owed to no fewer than three fired BCS football coaches. One of whom, the fired football coach from the University of Florida, would receive his full $6Mil plus buyout without the a duty to mitigate against any payments, and while retaining the right to full payment of his entire $6Mil plus buyout regardless of any offsetting salary he may earn for or from taking his next coaching job.
So, all-in, the University of Florida spent more than $11Mil for…to… (scratching my head trying to figure out how to finish that sentence)… I'm not really sure what that $11Mil plus gets them, honestly.
The University of Michigan fired its head football coach. A multi-million dollar buy-out was involved there too. Then, the university's interim Athletic Director announced that the school would retain an executive search firm to identify and decide on the best candidate to replace the fired football coach. Ironically/sadly, the retained search firm is the same such search firm that was engaged to hire the recently fired Athletic Director and the recently fired football coach. Oh, and that search firm is headed by a loyal/zealous Michigan ("Man") fan-boy.
Since UAB founded its football program in 1996, nine other universities either in or on the cusp of joining the Football Bowl Subdivision have started football programs. Of those schools—South Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, South Alabama, UT San Antonio, Georgia State, Old Dominion, and UNC Charlotte—only South Florida appears able to be capable of self-sustaining itself; but, even South Florida has struggled as of late, winning only a combined six games in the past two seasons.
In his letter to the university's faculty, President Watts stated in pertinent part that, "UAB already subsidizes $20 million of the roughly $30 million annual Athletic Department budget." Also noting that, "in order for us to more effectively reinvest in athletic programs that are most likely to bring growth, prolonged success and national prominence to UAB, the 2014-15 academic year will be the final season for UAB football, bowling and rifle." Football axed alongside of bowling and rifle. One of these things is not like the other. According to Watts, "investments in football were unlikely to produce a sustainable return relative to the required investment. This is especially the case with the rapidly evolving NCAA landscape and the soaring costs associated with maintaining a competitive team." Wait. What? "Investments?.?" "A sustainable return relative to the required investment.?.?" NCAA football a business? Those sound a lot more like topics tossed around by MBAs than like 'coach-speak'.
"The difference between our future Athletic Department with and without football is an additional $49 million investment on top of the $100 million UAB will already invest in athletics in the next five years… This does not include additional needed capital investments of $22 million for football facilities alone. These capital projects would include a field house, an indoor practice facility and a turf field, but not a stadium."
Said President Watts, "it would be fiscally irresponsible and virtually impossible to keep pace with these growing financial demands without sacrificing the financial health and sustainability of Athletics, or redirecting funds from other critical areas of importance, like education, research, patient care or student services."
"To those who are losing something they hold dear with this decision, I am truly sorry."
UAB's decision to fold its football program based on fiscal considerations is the first domino to fall; pushed over by increased financial obligations necessary to be competitive on the football field, as evidenced, for example, by Florida's folly-like willingness and ability to essentially burn $11Mil, and Michigan's similar folly-filled failure to learn from its own (recent) history. But, it won't be the last. More schools will fold-up programs, including but not limited to football.
Reach Matt Laczkowski at email@example.com.