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Highlighting a Comment on U.A.B.

I understand the particulars of the circumstances and grasp the basic principles behind each side’s point of view in the argument between U.A.B. and the University of Alabama board of trustees over construction of an on-campus stadium, but have seemingly failed in grasping the basic tenor of this situation, as a good portion of comments have suggested. In the main post from two days ago, a comment from Perry, a U.A.B. graduate, stood out to the point where I believe giving the comment its own post was warranted. All words that follow are Perry’s:

The real question here is if there is a conflict of interest on the board of trustees that prevents the board from objectively administering the three campuses without favoring one over the others. I think the answer to that question is a clear yes.

You can see that with regard to the author’s statement…

“Your answer doesn’t really matter; the board of trustees have already made their decision. And it was an easy one for them — why allocate $75 million for U.A.B. when that same money can go to the state’s flagship university and football program?”

And this one by an earlier commenter:

“Also, why should the U of A system sew the seeds to raise up a competitor to their multi-million dollar, profitable operation?”

These quotes knowledge the existence of that conflict of interest as a fundamental basis for their statement/question. Despite what the common belief might be, U.A.B. is a very big deal in performing the functions that universities supposedly exist to perform – research and teaching. It’s a much bigger deal than other universities in the state.

So why aren’t more people aware of that? Well, the schools that show up on TV every Saturday are the face of Alabama to most of the rest of the country.

There are three reasons U.A.B. needs its football program (in this order of importance):

1) Improve student life on campus.
2) Building on 1), turn that into alumni loyalty.
3) To gain some bit of that aforementioned recognition.

This is a modestly sized 27,500 seat stadium. Even if U.A.B. were to drop down to some other level of play in football (which I think is a bad idea for reasons of conference affiliation for other sports if nothing else) there will still need for a place for them to play. It can also be used for a myriad of other events.

The plans had already been drawn up as part of a feasibility study requested by the board – the results of which the board seemed to find very favorable at their previous meeting. The skyboxes are spoken for and the land is cleared ready for construction. The stadium is also part of a larger plan for redevelopment in that part of Birmingham. Interestingly the Alabama board of trustees seemed to change their mind between that meeting and this week’s meeting. Perhaps only circumstantially, Paul Bryant Jr. was made president of the B.O.T. just prior to the announcement that the on-campus stadium plan was shelved.

There have been continuing efforts underway to transform U.A.B. from a commuter school into a traditional college campus. One of the primary elements that U.A.B. is arguably lacking in that regard is a sense of community. How better, in the Southeastern United States, does a school create the social experiences needed to develop that sense of community than a football program?

Regarding alumni giving and loyalty… Today’s freshman that walks from his dorm to an on campus stadium where he meets his future wife is tomorrow’s big donor. Or, as I imagine at least one member of the B.O.T. might see it, that student can jump in a car, drive 45 minutes down I-59 and instead develop a fondness for another place.

Why should a university that is a $2 Billion annual business and a $4-$5 billion economic driver in the Birmingham area with an enrollment of over 16,000 students need permission from an arguably biased group of oligarchs to take a chance on the success of an on campus stadium that most schools would consider tiny?

If it is a failure, the administration should be held accountable, but the opportunity should not be buried in order to maintain the status quo under the false guise of financial concerns and past program performance (especially where that performance has been limited by the same empowered body).

If anything, U.A.B. football has done extraordinarily well under the circumstances of limited facilities and lack of institutional support. Not so long ago, when the very first B.C.S. rankings were released, U.A.B. was ranked 24th. The jokes are plenty, but many are not based in fact.

Even the picture included in the article above misrepresents the facts. That is a photo of the east side of Legion Field. Not that it isn’t bad, but that does not reflect the attendance for the game shown. The U.A.B. fans sit on the side from where the photo was being taken and are out of the frame – not to mention that Legion Field is cavernous and would make a sell out crowd in the proposed stadium look like a disappointment. U.A.B. has had home crowds as big as 44,000 for a Conference USA opponent and had a home crowd of 27,000 for one of their home games this year.

The proposed stadium would be profitable at around 16,000. Clearly the situation is far less dire than the snide remarks indicate. U.C.F. recently opened a similar stadium, moving out of an older venue, and their attendance increased dramatically.

The B.O.T. has indeed overseen a period of tremendous expansion and increased successes for U.A.B. in nearly EVERY area that U.A.B. has considered fit to enter – EXCEPT for one – football. Some cite that as a reason to give football a backseat (or death sentence) at U.A.B. I personally see that as the most striking evidence available that there is a disparity in support for that particular endeavor at the highest level.

That is not a reason to give up. It is a reason to challenge the failed system that permits conflicts of interest and violations of fiduciary duties to go unchallenged and be covered over behind closed doors.

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Comments

  1. Cole says:

    Great article.

    #FreeUAB

  2. Colin says:

    Does this sort of conflict of interest happen elsewhere, too?

    It does, in Idaho. The University of Idaho is an older and more academically prestigious university than Boise State. For decades, the Idaho Board of Education has been dominated by graduates of (and fans of) the University of Idaho. It has frustrated Boise State’s academic ambitions (not duplicating programs at the U of I, even though it would make sense to have, for example, a law school in the state’s capital) as well as in sports. The one nay vote on the BoE’s approval in allowing BSU to join the Big East (if offered) was cast by somebody associated with Idaho.

  3. Bryant Denny says:

    The UAB argument reminds me of a kid promising to be a better kid if the parent buys them something.

  4. Cosmo says:

    Well said. Time for UAB alumni to take a stand.

  5. Nick says:

    Bryant Denny,

    Maybe I don’t know the specifics of the finances in Alabama, but why can’t UAB be autonomous and take on their own debt to build a stadium and not have to ask those from Tuscaloosa?

  6. gtwrek says:

    UAB is the only thing that differentiates the State of Alabama from the State of Mississippi. Support UAB.

  7. Nick says:

    Very well written. Thank you for your support.

    #freeUAB

  8. Burnt Orange says:

    @Colin – The University of Texas also has a common board of regents governing the entire system- UT Austin, UTEP, UT Arlington, UTSA, etc.

    UT Arlington ( UTA) had a football program that was shut down for budgetary reasons over 25 years ago. They had beaten TCU and were playing A&M and SMU. I do not recall all of the politics but it killed campus spirit and arguably set the growth of that university back years in this football crazed state. The UTA basketball program is moving into a new arena this year after playing on the stage of a performing arts center forever. It took mountain moving to get that done.

    I guarantee you the UTA football program was light years ahead of where Boise was when UTA was shutdown. They had an aggressive Texas high school coaching legend ( Chuck Curtis ) as head coach who was hell bent on elevating the program. I have wondered if Curtis was starting to concern people in high places.

  9. Perry says:

    Bryant Denny,

    First, I find it interesting how many Alabama fans (I presume that you are an Alabama fan given your username) suddenly become so interested in fiscal responsibility when it comes to UAB football. A suspicious person might conclude that the underlying conflict of interest outlined above might have some bearing on that.

    Second, your analogy fails for several reasons, the primary one being that the “kid” in this case generates more revenue for the university system than the other two campuses put together. The detractors love to point to the financials of UAB sports and compare those to schools that predate UAB by more than a century. If you compare the financials of the entire institution, UAB trounces those same schools which is an astounding achievement. UAB is the cash cow of the university system.

    A more accurate analogy would be a child genius asking his parents (who control millions made off of his ingenuity) for some of his cash so that he can spend it on a date with a pretty girl. It might be frivolous, she might not be the one, but he certainly deserves the chance to find out.

    Assuming the institution so desires (it does), UAB should be permitted to build its own stadium, then search for and hire the coach of their choosing. If UAB football fails after that, so be it. Until that full opportunity is afforded, this will continue to be a board of trustees with a demonstrated conflict of interest acting as the tail wagging the dog.

  10. Babe says:

    Burnt Orange:

    You failed to mention UT-SanAntonio, coached by Larry Coker, which plans to join the FBS ranks in the near future. The state of Texas has a much larger base with which to recruit than a state like Alabama, so it’s competition from a satellite campus is less of an issue.

    Also, winning against the downtrodden leavings of the SWC 25 years ago does not constitute proof of an emerging football program.

  11. Burnt Orange says:

    Babe- I hear you. This whole UAB matter hit a nerve with me. Obviously, Texas is my team but Arlington is home. The fact that UTSA has a program and UTA ( they are virtually the same in terms of enrollment) does not is a further irritant. Let me explain.

    UTA won back to back Junior Rose Bowls in the late fifties. That game decided the Junior College National Championship. The school became a four year college, won the Pecan Bowl in 1967 ( one of the predecessors to the FCS championship) and moved up to what was then DI in the early seventies. They did all of this playing in a high stadium with wooden bleachers that was small by Texas high school standards.

    What ensued was a ten year struggle to get a stadium and finally a new high school stadium was basically provided. Arlington high schools play in it today. The program suffered but in 1984 the energetic Curtis became the coach, the team landed some high quality recruits , and went 7-4. That off season, the movement to kill the program surfaced and the program was gone within a year.

    It was inaccurate for me to suggest this was another Boise but what frustrates me is they never were given a fair chance to become one.

  12. Babe says:

    BurntOrange:

    Interesting stuff, thanks for the background on UTA.

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