Category Archives: sports

New questions about the UAB situation for a Monday afternoon

UAB-Blaze-at-Bartow-ArenaI’ve been sitting back and watching all the buzz online today with regard to UAB while starting to get ready for my turn to manage a weekly online journalism chat, but I’ve got to share some of the thoughts and questions on my mind:

1) I’m still wondering why Jabo Waggoner has stayed so quiet for so long? Why is that what’s on my mind? A timeline I created for a presentation about this suggests both Williams AND Waggoner were present for a late October meeting with UAB officials. Williams has been quite vocal while Waggoner’s made very few statements.

2) Most of the buzz from today jives with earlier statements made. Just because we don’t always pay attention to what’s been said doesn’t mean it hasn’t been public. It may just mean that emotions are strong on this issue (and rightfully so).

3) Assuming the bill that requires UAB must field a team passes, how do we as a community make sure the university as a whole (and the athletics department in particular) is not in this same position in 4-5 years? If UAB is going to get back a football team (and I, for one, hope that’s the case at some point), how is a similar financial situation kept from happening again? We will be making history anyway as the first state in the country to require that a university field a football team, so we probably want to make sure it stays viable to field teams for as long as possible (especially as we wait to see how the state will attempt to handle its own funding gap in the coming months).

4) Why did so many folks “wait to be asked” to do something if it’s been an issue for years? I’m not talking about those who’ve long served faithfully as boosters to the program, but those who would’ve made the burden less stressful (i.e., major corporate citizens). If it’s always been suggested that we must volunteer to lead instead of waiting to be asked, why point to not being asked as a reason for sitting on the sidelines instead of seeing the need and filling it? Will “they” step up and serve if asked (as they will need to moving forward)?

Then again, perhaps that same question can be asked about several issues currently facing the city and the region…

5) Can we take a moment and say how proud we are of the men’s basketball team for their NCAA tournament run for a little while longer? They did their university and this city proud and will probably be on more than a few radars next year.

6) When we look back, will this be a case of attempting to see what will get the home rule debate before the state’s citizens in a palatable way? If you take out UAB and insert the name of any major city in the state, isn’t it really about home rule? Is a constitutional amendment regulating an athletic team as important as ones that deal with the issues truly affecting the state right now? I’m a home rule fan. I’m not a fan of home rule with strings attached being dictated by the Legislature as is the case right now (see Question #3).

It may be oversimplifying a lot of what’s going on today, but it’s what I’ve got. Chime in if you have a moment (or if I’ve missed some questions — and believe me, there are a lot more that need to be asked of all sides on this one).


By the way: Before I forget, I’d like to acknowledge a former UAH athlete not getting a lot of attention in Alabama in recent weeks – Cam Talbot. Talbot is the backup goalie for the New York Rangers and, in the absence of their number 1 goalie due to a damaged blood vessel, he’s once again proven he’s, as the Wall Street Journal calls him, “the best insurance policy in the NHL.” 36 saves last night alone – insane.

André Natta is the stationmaster of

A lack of bedside manners and options presented at UAB

DrRayWattsSrMD-232x300There’s a commonly held stereotype that doctors don’t all have the best bedside manner. I’ve been lucky to know a few doctors in my life (some as friends, at least one as family) that don’t measure up to that perception; they’re engaging, informative, and personable. Unfortunately, the last 48 hours have demonstrated that it might actually apply to UAB president Ray Watts (especially after the release of an extended video clip showing his interaction with members of the football team during their closed door meeting).

In February 2013 I wrote of the need for the next president of UAB to dreams bigger dreams while being willing to use the bully pulpit to do so. Recent events weren’t exactly what I had in mind.

There is something most doctors are normally good at doing – offering us options and encouraging us to get a second opinion. Even those with the worst bedside manner are capable of this feat. I haven’t found a real instance of the UAB president providing any to the student body. The document used to justify Tuesday’s announcement (merely part of the strategic plan that still needs to be made public upon its completion) took one off the table right off the bat – competing as a Football Championship Subivision (FCS) school instead of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Given the answers former UAB athletic director Brian Mackin wrote to UNC Charlotte during their exploratory process – ones shared in a this piece published on the Business of College Sports on December 3 – it’s understandable why; we are in the heart of the most rabid college football fan base in the country. (Incidentally, if you’re still attempting to blame Mackin for what happened even after you realize he basically gave up his post because he didn’t agree with it, stop.) Note, 14 of the 16 schools in Division I to discontinue football since 1995 are FCS schools as mentioned in this piece on the site’s front page today.

What happened at East Tennessee State?

Another option not readily offered was allowing students to decide if they’d be willing to increase student fees to offset the anticipated costs for the program. This is how East Tennessee State University will bring their team back to action next year to compete in the FCS. Their student government voted 22-5 to increase their student fees by $125/semester to support a return of football in 2013. Their university president was in attendance at the vote. This followed a controversial vote of the entire student body in 2007 (four years after the program wrapped up its final season at 3-6 knowing it was the last one) that failed to garner support. The vote in 2013 was not without some students voicing concern about how they would find another $1,000 over four years to pay for their college education (an extremely legitimate one), but the option was presented and considered.

Could their plan work if carried out at UAB?

Based on their plan (as it was passed by Tennessee’s state Board of Regents) and UAB’s currently listed total student population of 18,568, a similarly approved measure would generate $4,642,000 per year if implemented next academic year. Even if enrollment numbers did not increase, $23,210,000 would be available over a five-year period. If the UAB Football Foundation were also able to average $5 million in fund raising efforts per year for the next five years, UAB would have $48,210,000 available to use. Taking the level of passion showed in recent days into consideration and assuming the student body did continue to increase, it’s safe to say the $49 million deficit cited in the analysis could easily be filled – and that’s before the city, county, and state get involved – saving all three discontinued teams.

The timeline of events at East Tennessee State University reminds us neat and tidy is not always possible and that solutions could take time (something the current Blazers may not possess). The idea of an FBS team not taking the field in the Football Capital of the South does have some cringing and upset – after all, as former long-time Birmingham News sports editor Zipp Newman famously wrote, “Football is a religion of the Southland, played by the boys and lived and relived daily by their families.” I’m positive the ‘Dean of Southern sports writers’ would be calling for frank, candid discussions about the options available short and long-term. We need someone – maybe even the university president – to be more candid about what’s possible.

It’s also worth noting if the process necessary for an East Tennessee State-type of solution are carried out the same way here, the final decision would lie with the university system board of trustees. It would be a moment to see if they will listen to their students or if this is about something else. It’d also show if they were willing to take the words of their first chancellor (UAB’s first president, Joseph Volker) to heart about dreaming big dreams for Birmingham.

André Natta is the stationmaster for

The Show should consider coming to Rickwood

The best way to describe the news that came out of Boston last week for non-baseball fans here in Alabama is to imagine that you didn’t have to wait until late November for that game between Alabama and Auburn… yeah, it was that big. The only thing that would make it bigger in my opinion would be to let the games be played at baseball’s oldest ballpark – here in Birmingham.

If you didn’t click through up above, MLB has hinted – heavily – that the New York Yankees will open the 2010 season against the Boston Red Sox. It would be the third time in the last 18 years that the hardball rivals would be facing each other to open the season. The only decision that appears to be left to make according to the Boston Herald story is where the games will be played.

The pomp and circumstance of the new Yankee Stadium‘s inaugural season will be over and Boston’s Fenway Park would still be recovering from January’s NHL Winter Classic. I have not been to either ballpark (though I have many fond memories of the old Yankee Stadium from growing up in The Bronx). It’s not that I don’t want to have to figure out some way to afford tickets to what would most likely be my first game in attendance at the new cathedral to the game at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue; I just think that baseball’s oldest surviving stage should be given a chance to shine for its 100th anniversary and this would definitely allow for that to be the case.

Both franchises have previously been affiliated with the Birmingham minor league organization. The Red Sox’ manager, Terry Francona, is still much beloved  by The Magic City from his days as the field manager of the Barons and the feelings still appear to be mutual. Rickwood is in need of a significant renovation and while Mayor Langford’s plans for the facility and a soon to be constructed museum will draw people to the ballpark, a game like this would raise its awareness – and fund-raising potential – with a larger potential audience of die-hard fans. While it is much smaller than either of the participating teams’ home ballparks and while I am not sure if MLB is willing to do so, but the gate being donated towards Rickwood’s restoration.

Because of the ballpark’s size, maybe an exhibition game may be a better way to go. It doesn’t even have to be these two teams playing, though they have the best arguments for being involved – except for maybe the White Sox. I would simply consider it a shame if MLB didn’t figure out some way to take advantage of Rickwood’s anniversary.

It may be a pipe dream to convince MLB to stage a regular season game at Rickwood Field, but it is something that should be considered as it prepares to celebrate a century occupying its space on the city’s Westside. Maybe dreaming that big dream for Birmingham may just bring us out of a rut of pessimism. Besides, it’ll be a good excuse to not be in the office on a Spring day in April and who wouldn’t want that.

What do you think?

André Natta is the stationmaster for

Take Me Out to the Rickwood Classic

Rickwood“Popcorn! Peanuts…”

A gruff voice yelled from somewhere off to my left. I squirmed in my chair as I spilled some of the overflowing melted ice cream out of my mini plastic helmet on to my shorts and the aluminum bleacher seat that we had commandeered.

“Can we get some peanuts dad?” I asked sheepishly as I wiped the mess off with my fingers and licked them. My dad looked at my shorts and fingers and frowned for a few seconds, but a smile cracked as he waved his hand in the air, “Why not… it’s a ball game!”

The old man came over and my dad bought two bags and I changed my mind to Cracker Jacks. Pretty soon peanut husks were littering that old green floor and the announcer asked everyone to stand for the national anthem. I was as proud to be an American (as proud as any 10 year-old could be).

This is one of my earliest memories of Rickwood Field back in the 80s when my dad took me to my first Rickwood Rickwood lightsClassic. After 20 years of missionary work in South America, my dad is currently the chaplin for the Latino and Spanish speaking members of the Birmingham Barons and he still loves baseball. Lets just say we NEVER miss a Rickwood Classic. is reporting that this year’s Rickwood Classic is still the most desirable minor league game to attend in the country. This year’s Classic is being held this Wednesday, May 27. This family friendly event usually features a silent auction, food, vintage uniforms and costumes. 

Just as a heads up, 2010 will be the 100th anniversary of the opening of Rickwood Field. According to The Birmingham News, the City Council has approved and has already started planning a $7.5 million renovation to the park and an addition of a museum to the site. A private collector from Dallas has also already agreed to move his collection of Negro League memorabilia worth more than $4 million as well as his historical research center to the site when the project is completed. This might be the last time you get to see the park before the renovation next year.

Take someone out to the ballgame this year for a once in a lifetime baseball experience found only in Birmingham.

Photos: Josh Self/Flickr

An Olympic-sized dream

As I looked at the story that ran on the Birmingham News’ site on Saturday about Mayor Langford wanting to bid for the 2020 Olympics and saw the reaction of readers, a few things ran through my mind.

I found it funny that people will say that all outsiders know about Birmingham is what happened during the Civil Rights movement, yet “no one’s even heard of Birmingham” whenever we want to think big. I also find it funny that people think that downtown is so dangerous. My current plans to move have nothing to do with safety – it’s more to do with the costs. It is probably one of the safer downtown areas I’ve ever lived in. Finally, (at least to me) it’s not about actually getting the Games – though that’s the ultimate goal – it’s about knowing that you could be an Olympic minded city.

I also stumbled across this post over on Daily Dixie late last night. While some of the things in the list are true, maybe having a goal as unattainable as hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics could start to move us in the  direction we want to go in. It would also force us to begin to look at taking ownership of some of the bigger issues in our community ourselves as citizens, an idea whose time I believe has finally come in The Magic City. Why sit back and wait for someone else to do something when you can take initiative yourself?

I’m not saying that I think we have a chance at all to get the Games at all. I think besides the arbitrary reasons people will want to give, I’d point to the International Olympic Committee‘s historic precedent (and dislike) of not having cities so close to each other hosting games so soon after one another, even with the 24 years that will have elapsed between the Centennial games of Atlanta and our elected leader’s goal. Our chances will also hinge on whether Chicago is successful in its current bid to host the Games in 2016 – if they are, it would further hurt our chances. There’s also the quality of the 27 other cities that are hoping for the nod when the lucky city is announced sometime in 2013. While I won’t be as caustic as Scarbinsky was, there are other numbers that don’t necessarily say “over here, over here!”.

This is one time though where I think many of us pundits would love to be proven wrong. A familiar quote has resurfaced during my research and founding UAB President Volker’s comments have never echoed in my mind as much as they do now. We must dream big dreams for the city and the region, but our leaders must realize that they must work together to solve the issues of the day. Compromise and partnerships are two things that, while becoming more prevalent in recent conversations, still seem to elude us when they matter most. The thing is, attempting to win the right to host a Summer Olympics would force the city of Birmingham and its leadership, elected and otherwise, to take a good hard look at the issues that face the city and the region and have significant progress made by a clear and absolute deadline.

The year 2020 has always appeared to be an important one to our area’s community leaders. Several organizations, most notably Region 2020, have chosen the arbitrary date as a deadline for when things need to be accomplished. Mayor Langford’s proclamation while in attendance at the Alabama Sports Festival may have been “classic” Larry, however those around him will realize quickly that many of his ideas, if linked together under this umbrella, may actually get some traction, whether it’s a dome, new housing, new businesses, better transit, etc. So long as the improvements made to the city are done for the good of its citizens and not to be “as good as” any other large Southern metropolitan city, it could be the goal that finally makes us work for it. It also provides something for us to hold him accountable to and a bar to reach for when 2020 finally descends upon us.

If you use Chicago’s current bid for the 2016 Summer Games as an example, many of the infrastructure improvements that would need to be made would have to see significant progress by 2012, giving Langford until the end of his current term to leave what would be an indelible mark indeed. Even if we were unsuccessful, it would be a feather in his cap to see just what could be accomplished for our citizens in order to try to even compete, especially after reviewing the 257-page application completed for consideration to host the 2016 Games. It could also be a great way to measure his success and determine if he deserves another term in office.

André Natta is the managing editor of The Terminal.

As many teams as we want

I sat down with a representative from the United Football League before I headed out on my trip to Las Vegas last week. It was an interesting conversation as we went back and forth about being from big cities and wondering just how the league would be accepted if we were awarded one of the eight charter franchises.

I brought up some of the challenges that would face the new league, most notably the league’s plans to play on Friday nights. Now, even though I am more inclined to wander into a high school basketball game than a high school football game to this day, I am the exception to the general rule that Friday night high school football rules the South – as well as Saturday college football.

The folks at the UFL are attempting to make it more about civic pride, about whether or not we want a team. With financial backers like Mark Cuban (who incidentally for Cub fans out there said that he was interested in buying the team when he spoke at the BlogWorld conference last week), the league could wait out long term overarching fan support if those in The Magic City decided that we could support two teams. Past studies have shown that we could support a pro football team here in town. You could have the two leagues duke it out to determine which one reigns supreme (yeah, it was an Iron Chef reference; so?)

There are a few other things to consider. Most of the professional sports teams that have worn the name Birmingham on their person did not fold due to lack of fan support. Many met their demise due to the lack of support that the league brand they were associated with received. That being said, is the city of Birmingham ready to support two professional football teams after having none for so long?

My belief is that it can support both teams, at least for a while (with or without a dome, though our mayor has promised that a facility will be built). The All-American Football League (AAFL), once a coach is hired, will be able to play on the emotional heart strings of Alabama and Auburn fans who feel that their favorite player deserved a chance to go pro but, for whatever reason, the opportunity never materialized. Playing in the spring means that they can immediately fill the void that normally exists after the bowl national championship and Super Bowl are played.

The UFL faces a tougher challenge if it plans to succeed in the Southeastern United States. The league cannot immediately play on getting young players to come out and watch since they are planning to compete with them for fans by playing on Fridays. You also face the problem of folks already planning to get in the car and drive to Auburn or Tuscaloosa probably not feeling like spending that kind of money two days in a row. Play on the heart strings of those without ties to Alabama or Auburn (both locals and transplants) and those without children old enough to play football and you have found the beginnings of a fan base.

Can it really be about pride? At this point, the only thing holding the city back is the city itself. The success of both teams will rely on the willingness of Birmingham’s citizenry to want to will it to be successful. This is something that we can control.

André Natta is the publisher and managing editor of The Terminal. To submit letters in response to this commentary or to contact for general information, use any of the methods listed on our contact page.