I don’t want to take too much luster off the announcement that UAB President Ray Watts has reversed his decision of six (!) months ago and decided to reinstate football at that school – I have no doubt that it means a lot to the players, coaches and supporters of the program – but it’s hard not to be cynical about it.
At a news conference, Watts said the biggest reason for the reversal is UAB now has “tangible” additional financial support it did not have before. UAB supporters have committed $17.2 million to cover the athletic department’s operating deficit and need to produce an additional $13 million for facilities, Watts said.
Watts laid out three conditions for the return of football: UAB can’t exceed the amount of institutional support it currently provides for athletics; public and private donors must meet “reasonable” timelines to convert their pledges into money, a timeframe Watts said he will make public at a later date; and UAB won’t borrow money to improve outdated athletic facilities. UAB is a rare Football Bowl Subdivision School that for years has not carried an annual debt service due to athletics.
At times, Watts became annoyed by specific questions, such as why the university couldn’t have better analyzed football’s future on the front end before eliminating the sport. “I don’t want to pursue a lot of time looking back,” Watts said.
I bet you don’t.
There is so little of substance there, nothing that constitutes a firm commitment to anything, that I can’t help but cynically wonder if this is just Watts’ way of keeping the school in Conference USA for at least a little while longer.
For months, Conference USA played the long game with UAB’s future while the university couldn’t get a grip on what to do. C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky elected not to rush UAB into a decision about reinstatement, thus avoiding giving the UAB administration an out to kill the reinstatement possibility sooner. C-USA was content to let the issue run its course.
“I hoped that the longer it played out, the better the chances would be for it to be reinstated,” Banowsky said. “I was trying to encourage everyone just to be patient and give them the space they needed to get the answers they needed.”
Watts confirmed UAB plans to remain an FBS program in C-USA. New UAB athletic director Mark Ingram said the goal is to play football again as soon as possible, which may be 2016. There will be NCAA issues to navigate through for UAB to regain its FBS status.
Banowsky described UAB’s immediate FBS status as “unchartered territory” because he doesn’t think there has ever been a program to take this route. A school can stay in FBS if it has 76 scholarships — 90 percent of the maximum 85 scholarships.
“My initial thought is I think they’ll be able to maintain FBS status, even though they don’t field a team in a given year,” Banowsky said. “The sooner they can get back to 76 (scholarships), I think the better off they’ll be under the NCAA’s eyes. I think UAB’s intention is to move it along as quickly as they can within practical reasons.”
Getting those sweet checks is about as practical a reason as I can think of. Hey, maybe UAB’s new athletic director can schedule a few cupcake games while they’re putting the band back together. How much of a guarantee can a FBS team without a roster get for a road game these days?