Was UAB football ever given a real chance for success?

Published 11:13 pm Monday, December 1, 2014

I went to the mall Saturday to try to get a chunk of my Christmas shopping done. Spending time with my family and humming to holiday tunes in the stores, it felt like a day where nothing could bring me down.

It only got better when four separate strangers noticed I was wearing a UAB shirt and brought up the Blazers football team, which had become bowl eligible for only the second time in school history with Saturday’s win over Southern Miss.

Hours later, news broke that the UAB football program is all but gone, pending an official announcement.

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As a UAB alumnus, the news hit me hard. I started to think about whether I did everything I could to help the school’s football program thrive. Thinking back, I know I didn’t. During my time as a student at UAB, I was a major part of the attendance problems that have plagued the school since its opening season in 1991.

I only went to one football game during my two years at UAB and although the excuses for why range from reasonable to downright lousy — late night classes, work and not wanting to drive off campus to Legion Field were among them — they are still excuses.

Although game attendance is one of the reasons the program is likely to be put to rest, this year UAB found relief of those problems.  Last year under coach Garrick McGee, UAB’s home attendance fell to an average of 10,548 fans per game. This year under Clark, UAB has doubled that number and has posted some of its highest attendance numbers in a decade.

I’ve pointed the finger at myself, but there’s plenty of others to blame as well — namely, the University of Alabama’s board of trustees, the 17-member brain trust that oversees the University of Alabama System’s campuses in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville.

Throughout UAB’s football history, the program has taken small steps forward, only to see the board seemingly trip the Blazers up and shove them back down the stairs.

In 2006, the Blazers reportedly had reached an agreement with Jimbo Fisher to become the school’s football coach. Reports said that around half of Fisher’s $600,000 agreed upon salary was going to be paid by boosters, but the board of trustees blocked the agreement.

For years and years, UAB students have shouted from the mountaintops, begging for a new, on-campus stadium. UAB proposed a 30,000 seat stadium in 2011 that would have replaced worn out Legion Field.

The school estimated the cost for the new stadium would be $75 million, which the board of trustees ruled was just too much for a stadium that would be used only a few days each year, especially for a program with low support.

Although I don’t believe the board necessarily sees everything in crimson and white, I must admit that as a reasonable person — admittedly with UAB in my heart — I can’t understand why the Fisher decision was made or why the stadium wasn’t built. I realize that if the program is granted another year, it needs more support. I, like most UAB supporters, believe a stadium on campus would only help.

In a pigskin-obsessed state with five Football Bowl Subdivision football programs, UAB could thrive if given the opportunity. Many will say the school, students and fans failed to support a football team when given the chance.

I counter with a simple question: How can something be labeled a failure when it was never given a real opportunity to succeed?