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Regarding things of great importance, the smart play is and always has been to take a step back before reacting. In the case of #FreeUAB, 48-72 hours might not do it full justice.
Yeah, UAB football is back, and the end game is something I think most everyone wanted to see, but how it got to this place is beyond confusing and takes allegedly smart people to task over questions most surely to go unanswered for several years.
On one hand, UAB dissolving football last year might have been the healthiest thing for it’s program, financially. It’s amazingly hard to imagine some hellfire and brimstone threat of having to shut the program (and a few others) down unless “X dollar amount was met,” would have worked.
It would have been met with scare tactic thought processes and the loot wouldn’t have been dug up from under the tree to make it work in the end, probably.
But by cancelling football, UAB President Ray Watts basically spent half a year walking on hot coals every day but in the end, saw the money donated. Now, don’t for even a second believe that the foresight was there that said …
“Hey, only way we get the money we need is by ending the football program and seeing the outrage turn into dollars.”
Even though that’s what happened.
Whether you agree with it or not is not for this column to say, but Watts did what he financially felt was best, and a lot of people were pissed … and rightly so even if there was no immediate right answer. Any time you shut down athletic programs, particularly ones like football which offer a bevy of full scholarships for young people wanting and capable of playing the sport, you’re ending someone’s opportunity.
Yes, if you’re getting a scholarship to UAB, you’re probably getting other offers, but the trickle-down effect ends somewhere, with someone not having the opportunity otherwise afforded. That being said, sports cost money, and in particular, football.
The fact that UAB was able to raise the support and finances it needed to bring back the program is a feel-good story, but it’s a band aid on a problem. The program’s facilities are still an additional $13 million in the hole, and how long does this decision permeate the air before people start tuning out again?
Part of it smacks as the person unable to comfortably pay their apartment rental every month getting lucky on a $20,000 scratch off ticket and thinking that will get them through for the next several years without working. Absent the damage already being done, UAB needs support without the hint of threat to be financially successful going forward. On the field, they seem like they’re on the way up.
UAB’s attendance has been abysmal, and part of that has been a lack of success. In the past season, attendance doubled to over 20,000, which says more about what it was before than what it is now. What guarantee is there that attendance will be at a level long term that keeps the program sustainable? These are real questions, because you learn early on as a kid that getting a bunch of money for Christmas doesn’t mean you’re rich all year long going forward.
As for the other part of it, where was the community when UAB was bloodletting finances to keep the program alive? Was it simply a matter of winning or losing? Is that really the difference between the $17 million raised to get the program up and running and keeping it where it is?
These are hard questions that have no immediate answers. UAB is back, and I think we all can agree that’s a good thing, but what does the future look like, and why does it take the extreme action of abolishing the program to get the requisite support to get it back up and running? What about facilities … will they raise the money needed to update them?
What happens in five years if the shine has worn off and the underground rumblings of threats that the program may need to end resurface?
There are more questions than answers. Yes, UAB is back, but it feels like a relationship where the significant other does what he/she wants only so long as it takes to get the other person to take it on the arches and leave, then realize what a mistake it may have been, promise change, and sometimes that’s a real promise and sometimes it’s not.
If cancelling football was UAB’s only play to getting the program up and running again, that’s not a sustainable model. Is this a band-aid, a suture, or surgery? Only time will tell.