U.A.B.’s Future Goes From Bleak to Dire
By Paul Myerberg // Nov 2, 2011
There are the haves and there are the have-nots in college football, as we all know. The haves are the haves because they, well, have things. They have nice facilities. They have history. They have a good coach, they have a strong roster and, perhaps most of all, they have a dedicated base of support. And all haves share one thing: all have a stadium. Their own stadium. Even the vast majority of the have-nots have their own, football-dedicated on-campus stadium — one who doesn’t, and might not for a long, long time, is U.A.B.
Here’s the thing with U.A.B.: while a separate institution, it is part and parcel of the University of Alabama system. This means that whenever U.A.B. wants to do anything — like hire a coach, for instance — it must gain approval from the Alabama board of trustees.
As with Jimbo Fisher, for instance. The Blazers thought they had Fisher, then the offensive coordinator at L.S.U., signed, sealed and delivered on a multiple-year contract worth about $600,000 a year. That would have been one heck of a hire for U.A.B., which was only begrudgingly granted approval to field a football program by the Alabama board of trustees in 1991.
The trustees balked, pulling the plug on the potential hire based on salary concerns. The reigning conspiracy theory goes that the Alabama board of trustees, those die-hard Crimson Tide backers, did not want one of the top assistant coaches in the country heading to Birmingham while the Tide floundered along under the direction of Mike Shula.
True, false? There are degrees of truth to every rumor. But this is the world U.A.B. lives in as the red-headed cousin to Alabama’s life as king of the castle. Further evidence was provided yesterday, when the board of trustees decreed that the university system could not allocate the proper funds to help finance an on-campus stadium for the Blazers.
The Blazers now play at old, leaky, creaky Legion Field, which was once the site of some of the most memorable moments in college football history — in the 1970s, for example. Today, Legion Field is one of the worst home fields in all of college football. The stadium’s structure is so poor that in 2003, when it was revealed that the upper deck was in a horrible state of disrepair, Alabama chose to simply not play there anymore rather then pay for the necessary renovations.
Instead, the university system opted to just remove the upper deck altogether. Here come the wrecking balls. But U.A.B. continues to play its home games at Legion Field, sometimes drawing 10,000 fans, sometimes drawing 5,000 and sometimes, as it seemed against U.C.F. two weeks ago, drawing about 250 fans.
The board of trustees referenced the lack of fan support in its statement regarding the viability of an on-campus stadium for the Blazers:
“A majority of the Board believes that an on-campus football stadium is not in the best interest of U.A.B., the University System or the State. It is the Board’s duty to be responsible stewards of the limited resources available for higher education. In these difficult economic times of rising tuition and decreasing state funds, we cannot justify the expenditure of $75 million in borrowed money for an athletic stadium which would only be used a few days each year. The U.A.B. football program has not generated sufficient student, fan or financial support to assure the viability of this project.”
The last sentence says it all. Listen: $75 million is not a small chunk of change. Not to say the university system doesn’t have that kind of money, however. In 2004, Alabama paid $47 million to expand the area surrounding the north end zone. In 2010, the university paid $65.6 million to expand the south end zone.
So the money’s there, just not for the Blazers. It’s a chicken-or-egg argument: U.A.B. is bad, perhaps undeserving of a new stadium, but would U.A.B. be this bad if it received more financial support from the University of Alabama system?
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?
The university system thinks U.A.B. is a have-not because it can’t pull itself up by its bootstraps. U.A.B. thinks it’s a have-not because it doesn’t land the sort of support afforded to the wide majority of the rest of the country. And while we’re talking money, here’s the $1 million question:
Without an on-campus stadium, without much fan support, without much hope for any change, does U.A.B. even have a viable future as an F.B.S. football program? Unfortunately, it’s a question that needs to be asked.
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Tags: Alabama, Legion Field, U.A.B.
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