Highlighting a Comment on U.A.B.
By Paul Myerberg // Nov 4, 2011
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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