Andy Schwarz looks at the report UAB’s president relied on in deciding to terminate the school’s football program and eviscerates it.
The reason I keep coming back to this story is because I feel fairly certain it’s going to be used to justify all kinds of bullshit in college football’s name. And that’s nonsense. As Schwarz puts it,
Why does this matter? Because it puts to lie the ludicrous notion that if the Alabamas of the college football world keep making more and more money—and potentially spend more and more of it on elite players—UAB and its ilk will have to drop the sport. Nonsense.
We wouldn’t expect a mom-and-pop store that has grown from $1.4 million to $6.5 million in annual revenues (which is what the typical school in the bottom quartile of the FBS has experienced) to go belly up just because a big box store across town grew from $24 million to $58 million (what the typical upper quartile FBS school has experienced) in the same time frame, nor would we expect the mom-and-pop to keep pace with what the big box spends on marketing and employee bonuses. Why would UAB, or any other mid-major football school, be different? The Blazers don’t compete against the Crimson Tide or the rest of the SEC for the very best high school recruits; they compete against the rest of C-USA, against schools that choose to spend about as much on football as they do.
You don’t need to outrun a hungry bear. You just need to outrun the guy sprinting next to you. (Moreover, in UAB’s case, it should do just fine against its C-USA competition just by positioning itself as a great place to transfer in the event that Nick Saban decides you’re good enough to break second-string on Alabama’s depth chart.)
There are plenty of reasons to poor mouth your finances. For UAB, it’s a convenient way to get around facing tough questions about the politics of its board. And if you’re college football? Well…
On a larger scale, this same sort of hide-the-profits accounting is—in my experience—all too common in college sports. It’s the kind of financial trickery that allows a swimming-in-the-black industry enjoying billions more in revenues than expenses to claim that more than 80 percent of FBS schools lose money on sports, the better to seek exemptions (via the federal courts or Congress) from the laws (antitrust or labor) that require all other entertainment industries to pay their talent free-market wages. Whether the school is trying to fool outsiders with its funny numbers or just managed to fool itself is hard to say, but one thing is certain: bad accounting drives bad decisions.
Ask yourself a simple question: if things are really so tough, if UAB is the canary in the coal mine, so to speak, why are more schools seeking to start football programs, or move up to Division I?