Category Archives: Sports

Digging into the UAB athletics announcement: A timeline of interest emerges

There are two slides that were added to the presentation made to the Alabama chapter of PRSA on Tuesday, January 13, before it was uploaded for sharing. These slides (numbers 13 and 14) represent a timeline of events occurring between October 28 (the date the UAB Football Foundation was formally announced via several media outlets) and November 12 (the date the foundation announced initial members appointed to its board). The information contained within was shared verbally with those in attendance on the 13th:

01132015 PRSA Alabama presentation

01132015 PRSA Alabama presentation2

The timing of the events included in the first slide and the significance of the soccer announcement as explained in the second slide (in addition to this report on it as it ran on November 10 — after securing a rendering of the proposed facility) are also significant considering a report from the UAB athletic financial analysis committee on December 19 made available earlier this month as a PDF.

More specifically, this passage from page two of the committee’s report is most significant:

At this point, no further work was performed based on the original contract or the two subsequent modifications. UAB reached back out to CarrSports during the week of October 6th to finalize the report. A draft was presented to UAB during the November 7th timeframe, with the final report being issued to UAB on 11/18/14.

It becomes significant when you begin to look at who knew what — specifically, the boosters — and when.

The reason behind the UAB athletics announcement

state appropriationsThis morning The Terminal sent an email to Jim Bakken, director of media relations at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), requesting a breakdown of revenue sources at the school for the last 3-5 years. We were specifically asking for those numbers to be broken down between research and non-research sources.

It is our contention that the original decision to announce the discontinuation of UAB’s bowling, rifle, and football teams would be understood in a much broader context once folks take a closer look at that data. We’ve since found other ways to make our case.

The key to this approach to the story is taking a step back and looking at the entire university and not just athletics and its budget in a vacuum. Many of the arguments associated with saving the program are based on proving UAB can afford to pay for athletics. If you base it purely on cash in hand and access to the money in the budget, this is a true statement — the school can afford to field a full slate of teams. If you remember it is one department in one of the state’s most valuable resources — and one that recently hasn’t been able to provide for merit raises, etc. — you realize it becomes a flimsy proposition quickly.

A look at the 2013 financial report (particularly pages 5 and 6 for purposes of our initial statement of facts) gives us the first lovely graphic accompanying this article. It shows the appropriations received by UAB from the state of Alabama from 2009 – 2013. It essentially suggests that appropriations have remained flat for that time frame.  The findings reported by Yellowhammer News back in September shows that the total decline has been slow, but steady — a result of the recognition of UAB’s importance to the state economy. The decline for UAB (5%) incidentally is not nearly as precipitous as the ones for the main campus in Tuscaloosa (20.7%) and Huntsville (19.2%) during that same 1987-2012 time period they referenced. This will come into play at the end of this piece.

uab staff profileA look back at this piece filed by former Birmingham News reporter Hannah Wolfson in September 2011 shows that the budgets for all three schools in the university system rely heavily on increasing enrollment numbers. Officials have tried very hard to resist raising student fees and tuition, even though that’s the only non-research related funding potentially under the school’s control. It’s what allows them to pay for non-hospital and non-research faculty related positions. It also allows for the subsidy for athletics. Basically, non-research related funding is what’s used to pay for most of the non-hospital positions at UAB. That would be the reason for the use of the second graphic taken from the report in this piece. The inability to see significant increases in funding means you can’t afford cost of living increases, non-capital efforts, or (as evidenced on Tuesday) pay raises for coaches in athletics if the program is being propped up via a subsidy from the academic side. Research funds can’t necessarily be used because they’re basically earmarked for specific projects.

One thing to remember as you look at when this article was filed is what else was going on at the time — the UAB on-campus stadium effort. It provides the basis for another theory as to why it was never taken up by the Board of Trustees for consideration two months later.

Following this to its logical conclusion, it can be hypothesized that Ray Watts didn’t cut football because he was out to hurt UAB; he cut football to keep UAB from suffering a fate similar to the current situation at the University of Maryland – a hiring freeze for all non-research related positions. It would also explain not only why Carol Garrison resigned before but why Judy Bonner announced her resignation late last year at Alabama. It also explains why the university has been so excited with regard to its recent increases in research funding, specifically from the National Institutes of Health.

Incidentally, Maryland did just announce this brand new project — one that won’t be affected by their hiring freeze. This is after they made a move back in 2012 that may look familiar to those who’ve been following the UAB situation — except they chose to keep football.

There are other effects to this effort — ones we’re continuing to investigate at this time.

Digging into the UAB Athletics announcement – Part 1

NOTE: The Terminal has been (mostly) quiet as I, André Natta, prepare to make a presentation to the Alabama chapter of the Public Relations Society of America on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Here’s the link with all of the information about the talk.) Preparing for the talk meant doing a completely separate, independent review of all the facts — those everyone is aware of and those folks aren’t quite paying attention to yet. Much of that research hinges on digging deeper into the Carr Report — a document (now 58 pages) that has been cited by UAB president Ray Watts as a key tool in reaching the decision. This is the first of the reports resulting from that research.

The Conference USA numbers

Conference-USAThe detailed version of the Carr Report also fails to take into consideration the fact that all of Conference USA’s current television contracts are set to expire at the end of the 2015-16 academic year. (That would be on page 22, a.k.a. Exhibit 1, Page 5.) Yes, they did just sign a contract with the American Sports Network in July – for two years, meaning it will expire at the same time. C-USA has been attempting to raise its profile in recent months, with pieces such as this incredible one published on SBNation about the first ever Popeyes Bahamas Bowl on Christmas Eve. They also paid for a PR consultant to help raise Marshall’s profile in advance of bowl game selections. The loss of UAB football is potentially a major one insofar as leverage in contract negotiations for television networks. It seems as though we’re football crazy in metro Birmingham – the market has just been named number 1 for college football for the fourteenth year in a row with a 9.2 rating. Add that to the performance of this year’s team – arguably playing what turned out to be the most challenging schedule in its conference this year – and you realize when the number 2 TV market in the country is down at 5.2, it’s a major issue. Even if it were to go a more digital route, like the Mountain West (the one C-USA almost merged with a couple of years ago) has done in partnership with Campus Insiders, it would lead to less money that what is currently shown in the Carr Report.

Efforts to get the conference office to provide comment about the status of television contract negotiations have been unsuccessful so far. Any reply will be added to this story as an update.

The financial reports filed by non-sports business reporters

Googling the name of the author of the Vice Sports report would let you know he is currently working as a consultant for the plaintiffs involved in the O’Bannon vs. NCAA lawsuit — the one still working its way through the legal system. His analysis assumes the university does not have to pay the room and board costs associated with housing the athletes as part of the new NCAA Division I governance rules. They may not have to “pay,” but there is still a “cost” that must be undertaken by the university to provide this amenity. Not paying the cost means a wider deficit to be filled with a growing subsidy from the academic side. There is also a cost to providing guaranteed scholarships for their entire academic career, including the cost of paying for former student athletes to complete their degree if they choose to return after leaving to pursue a career as a professional athlete. The projected health care costs given the industry’s current fluctuations suggests they may be conservative. Needless to say, it’s an optimistic stance taken in the document. It’s also showing some revenue as non-existent – including ticket sales at Regions Field during baseball season. Ohio State is playing in town the last week of February for a non-conference series against the Blazers; it alone invites the opportunity to increase revenue.

Actions undertaken by peer schools

Something else to be considered is the cost of the indoor practice facility in relation to other conference schools. The one most often mentioned recently is Florida Atlantic University. Lost in the excitement surrounding the announcement by Dr. Watts on December 2 was one by FAU – that of the largest single donation in the school’s history of $16 million (actually matching one made several years earlier) to help jump start fundraising efforts for a $44 million, 185,000 square feet athletic facility. Yes, $44 million to build a facility that will be primarily used not only by their football squad, but by the 20 other teams fielded by the school located in Boca Raton, Florida. All of the reports associated with the $10 million indoor practice facility suggests it would only be for the football team.

There are other issues to be raised, and they will be shared after the case study presentation tomorrow afternoon.

Reports of UAB football’s impending demise lead to impromptu rally, more questions

FYI — it’s included at the end of this piece, but there is a march planned for Monday morning, December 1, at 9 a.m. to the UAB administration building. They are planning to gather on the Campus Green located between University Boulevard and 10th Avenue South and 14 and 16th Streets South) at 8:30 a.m.

Whether you want to #freeUAB, #respectUAB, #saveUABfootball or #saveUAB, the spontaneous rally held on the university’s Campus Green on Sunday evening, November 30, — after several media outlets reported of the program’s pending demise — presents the latest chapter in the attempt to save UAB’s football team.

UAB men’s soccer starts their journey down the road to Cary, NC on November 20

uab mens soccerThe UAB men’s soccer team were rewarded for their 11-7-1 record and No. 21 national coaches’ poll ranking by receiving their third bid in four years to the NCAA College Cup tournament. They will host the Furman Paladins on November 20 at 5:30 p.m. at West Campus Field — the fourth time the school has ever hosted an opening round match. The announcement comes days after it was revealed the university’s soccer programs will soon be playing in a new home courtesy of a $1.5 million gift from BBVA Compass. It will be the team’s eighth ever appearance in the tournament.

The Paladins (12-5-3) earned an automatic bid by virtue of winning the Southern conference outright last week against Mercer. It will mark the team’s seventh postseason appearance, with Thursday’s meeting being the sixth time Furman and UAB have ever met on the pitch. The Blazers hold a 3-2-0 lead in the series. The last victory taking place the last time the two teams met — for a first round NCAA College Cup match in 2001. The winner advances to play Washington (12-5-1) on Sunday in Seattle at 5 p.m. PT.

This year’s College Cup semifinal and final matches will be held in Cary, NC on December 12-14, 2014 at WakeMed Soccer Park — the fourth time it will be held there since 2005.

Photo: via UAB Athletics website.

UAB announces new soccer facility, $1.5 million BBVA Compass gift towards construction

BBVA Compass field rendering from SEBBVA Compass and UAB officials released a statement on Friday announcing a $1.5 million gift to be used to construct a new 2,500 seat stadium for the school’s men’s and women’s soccer teams. The unveiling of these plans follow recent public written statements (including one released by UAB president Dr. Ray Watts and another by the university’s athletic director Brian Mackin) in response to a letter penned by the members of the newly formed UAB Football Foundation and first published on SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty. The exchange is leading many to wonder if the UAB football team will be taking the field in 2016 and beyond.

Digital renderings of the new facility, to be called BBVA Compass Field, were posted to the UAB men’s soccer team’s fan page on Facebook on Saturday morning, November 8. It would place two of athletic department’s top three performing programs (soccer and baseball) on prominent display for those arriving on campus from the west along University Boulevard. Its location is approximately where a proposed facility was suggested in the long-range plan for the university previously prepared by KPS Group. The field would replace the current team home, the West Campus Field. It is also not the global financial institution’s first foray into the naming-rights arena as BBVA Compass Stadium, a 22,000 seat facility in Houston, TX nicknamed “The Oven,” houses the MLS’s Houston Dynamo and NWSL’s Houston Dash; their Spanish-based parent company, BBVA Group, sponsors La Jiga — the top division in Spain’s soccer league system.

In related news, the men’s soccer team, currently ranked No. 22 in the nation, will play against Marshall at 3:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday, November 12, in Norfolk, VA. in a quarterfinal match for the Conference USA championship. They will play the winner of the first match of the day — Kentucky vs. South Carolina (1 p.m. CT).

Finebaum heads to Charlotte (while ESPN looks to cut costs)

Paul Finebaum, photo for column sig SPORTSThere is no doubt we’ll still be hearing callers from throughout the southeastern United States as Paul Finebaum grows what ESPN hopes will be a national network of rabid college fans eager to share their opinions with him on the air. Tuesday saw The Wall Street Journal publish a report about Finebaum’s new deal with ESPN. The formal announcement and first appearances on the network’s television and radio networks came Thursday morning.

The news of Finebaum’s departure from Birmingham broke just hours after word leaked from Bristol, CT about a significant number of employees being laid off by “the worldwide sports leader” as a cost-cutting measure. Most of the initial cuts took place in the company’s sales and technology departments and resulted in an approximately 5% reduction in workforce but more are expected in the coming weeks. The folks at Business Insider published a chart earlier this week providing a better visual understanding of the May 21 BigLeadSports post suggesting the rising cost of live sports was a major reason for the layoffs. published a story earlier today suggesting the layoffs were probably a little overdue and that the company will still continue hiring in new areas – like Finebaum’s new home come August 2014. Now, even though we do live in what many would consider the heart of SEC country, it probably wouldn’t hurt to visit and make sure the new station has a presence in metro Birmingham come 2014.