UAB Blazers End Football Program As UWF Gears Up
The University of Alabama-Birmingham’s announcement Tuesday that its football program is going away is raising questions about how other football-playing schools in the region, including the University of West Florida, could be affected.
UAB becomes the first since Pacific in 1995 to shutter its football operation. The decision was made after a campus-wide study conducted by a consulting firm over the past year, which shows UAB subsidizes two thirds of the program’s $30 million operating budget.
“Once we saw the financial realities that faced us, and the environment becoming more and more competitive in Division-I FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, college football's highest level) football, and looked at the opportunities for our other sports team(s), we knew we had to more some difficult but clearly necessary decisions,” said UAB President Ray Watts.
The Blazers finished the regular season 6-6 and bowl eligible, after coach Bill Clark's first season. The 24-year-old program's only bowl trip came in 2004, when UAB lost to Hawaii 59-40 in the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu on Christmas Eve. UAB’s players voted Tuesday to play if a bowl invitation is extended.
“It’s always sad when any program doesn’t continue,” said UWF head football coach Pete Shinnick. “And I know that the UAB program has had some struggles. It’s just a sad day for college football.”
The Argonauts are scheduled to begin play in Division II’s Gulf South Conference in 2016.
UWF Athletic Director Dave Scott says there are two major differences between the schools’ getting involved with football. The commitment by UWF was an institutional decision, where the decision at UAB in 1991 was made solely by that school’s athletic department.
“The other piece of it being, we’re at Division-II,” said Scott. “I think when you get to a certain level at Division-I it becomes more of an entertainment. You compete against a different environment, and it has a lot more cost. For us we compete at a different level, and it keeps it within its perspective within the institution.”
When a college’s sports program is discontinued, NCAA bylaws will allow players who decide to leave UAB to play elsewhere and they will not be required to sit out the following season.
Will UWF reap some of the benefits of these new “free agents?”
Shinnick says they’ve reached out to a couple of high school coaches regarding some players committed to UAB. But one major obstacle in recruiting former Blazers is UWF’s timetable.
“They want to go and play immediately,” Shinnick said. “So the fact that in 2015 we’re not playing any games, and it will be our practice and redshirt year that may or may not be of interest to guys. Obviously in a timing standpoint, if this would have happened a year from now, (it) probably would have timed out better for us. But we’ll see.”
As far as their own recruiting goes, Shinnick says he and his assistant coaches have been sifting through thousands of names and miles of video – in evaluating high school players from Miami to Alabama and Georgia.
Groundbreaking for the Football Complex is scheduled for early next year. A tryout camp for current UWF students is set for January 19 on campus.