Tag Archives: football

The UAB bills are filed in Montgomery as men’s basketball keeps dancing in Louisville

UAB Blaze at Bartow ArenaAs the UAB men’s basketball team prepared to tip-off against Iowa State on March 19 (in a game they ultimately won, 60-59), Alabama State Representative Jack Williams filed three bills aimed at dealing with concerns following the discontinuation of the university’s bowling, football, and rifle teams late last year. All three bills are currently awaiting action from the state house’s committee on education policy.

HB 339 would require those serving on university boards of trustees to complete mandatory training on the state’s ethics law, board governance, and accreditation standards including those of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. This bill has 63 co-sponsors.

The one likely to be watched closely will be HB 340, a modified version of the proposed changes first suggested by Williams in late November shortly before the announcement about the affected teams was first made. The bill as first described would have made Alabama the only public university board in the country with elected officials (as many as six) serving with full voting privileges. The proposal as submitted:

  • reduces the number of terms a trustee can serve from three to two;
  • calls for two seats to be filled from each congressional district while adding an additional seat from the congressional districts in which UAB and UAH exist to the extra one already in existence for the Tuscaloosa campus;
  • one seat each filled by appointment of the governing bodies of Birmingham, Huntsville, and Tuscaloosa (it was originally suggested these be filled by the mayors of each of these cities);
  • one seat each filled by appointment of the governing bodies (i.e., county commissions) in Jefferson, Madison, and Tuscaloosa counties (It was originally suggested for these to be the presidents of said commissions or their county manager);
  • one seat for each campus filled by an alum of the respective campuses to be appointed by the Governor to be chosen from a list of five names submitted by each campus’s alumni association;
  • one seat at-large filled by the lieutenant governor (with similar appointments made by the speaker of the house and the president pro tempore of the state senate;
  • Keeps the state superintendent and the Governor as ex officio members.

The board would no longer be self-appointing, with the task being handled by a committee consisting of the president pro temp of the board; one member of each alumni association (selected by each association’s board);  and the governor (or a designate that is not currently an employee of the system or any of its associated entities) serving as chair.

The bill has 41 co-sponsors.

HB 341 would require UAB field a football team with adequate funding to allow for competition at the Football Bowl Subdivision of NCAA Division I so long as the Tuscaloosa campus’s Crimson Tide remained active. This bill if passed would make Alabama the only state in the country to require that a football team be fielded for collegiate competition by its legislative body. This bill has 38 co-sponsors.

The bills await their debate while the men’s basketball team prepares to play UCLA on Saturday morning (11 a.m. CDT on CBS) or available via live streaming thanks to the NCAA.

Digging into the UAB athletics announcement: Sometimes it’s all about timing

uab proposed stadiumDuring the question and answer portion of the December 2 press conference held by UAB president Ray Watts to announce the discontinuation of the university’s bowling, football, and rifle teams, he offered up to those in attendance that he’d stopped an earlier attempt to end the football program for the purpose of conducting what’s now known as the Carr Report.

Here’s a passage from Bryan Davis’s report published in the Birmingham Business Journal quoting Watts:

“There were some who told us to eliminate football, some who suggested we do that when Garrick McGee quit,” Watts said. “We were six weeks into this plan, and we said ‘we don’t make decisions like that. We’re not going to make a unilateral decision that perhaps might be convenient.'”

Davis’s reporting also points out how Watts stated the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees had no role in determining the fate of the programs.

The story as it’s been told

Those who have come out against the university’s decision are quick to point to the trustees choosing to not take up the issue of an on-campus stadium in late 2011. The board made that decision two months after a report suggested the increased reliance of the member institution’s budgets on tuition and student fees.

At the time, Birmingham News columnist Kevin Scarbinsky asked Paul Bryant, Jr. — as part of a pretty extensive exchange originally published on November 3, 2011 — if the on-campus stadium was dead. His response?

“As presented, yes.”

It’s worth pointing out that UAB had not yet acquired most of the land necessary to carry out the development of the proposed on-campus stadium. It was slated to sit on property located close to Interstate 65 along its eastern edge, with parking located on the opposite side of the road from it and pedestrian access to the site (the horseshoe clearly stands out in the image on this page from UAB Magazine’s website).

A look at an article filed in 2013 by then-Birmingham News reporter Evan Belanger suggests there may have been efforts underway to make it time — and ones that could have led to Watts’s statement.

Approval at last?

Belanger’s February 7, 2013 report, “UA System trustees raise concern over UAB plan to purchase downtown property,” (updated the following evening after the Board of Trustees meeting had taken place) was specifically focused on resolutions for two negotiated land purchases — 11.7 acres at 400 10th St. South and 2.4 acres at 430 12th St. South. It would do well to click on the links associated with the addresses above and then take a look at the location of the bright green dots on the image below, taken from the UAB Master Plan update proposed in 2011 (and first presented to the board in February of that year).

Slide 1

While Belanger did include quotes from concerned trustees, it’s worth noting that neither Joseph Espy III or Finis St. John IV were sitting members of the committee taking up the issue. As is the case with Birmingham City Council committees, all such meetings involving the UA Board of Trustees are open to all members with each having the opportunity to be recognized by the committee chair but not necessarily being able to vote. The photo accompanying the story shows that was most likely the case that day. Both men were, however, members of the athletics, legal, nominating committees at that time according to a site capture of the board’s official website from January 26, 2013, explaining the concerns raised by each in the article.

It’s also worth noting the appraisal year mentioned in this portion of the piece:

“Vice President for Financial Affairs and Administration Richard Margison said a 2011 appraisal valued the land at about $3 million and a more recent appraisal valued it at $6.3 million — roughly $4 million excluding depreciated assets, which would be demolished.”

Both items passed the physical properties committee unanimously. The total expenditures approved as a result were $21.5 million — $20.7 total for the two purchases and $800,000 to help the Hardy Corporation relocate and replace equipment as a result of having to move. The cost referenced by Dr, Watts in his announcement on December 2 to invest in infrastructure for the football team was $22 million — a number The Carr Report points out does not include the cost of a new football stadium. The original price range for the entire on-campus stadium project as presented was between $66-75 million.

The vote took place the day before the general business meeting of the board of trustees — the day before Ray Watts was named the new president of UAB. The properties were also included on the board agenda (PDF; Page 15 under Real Estate Items) and approved. In other words — the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees allowed the purchase of two pieces of property specifically called out in UAB’s proposed Master Plan update in 2011 for use as a parking lot and an on-campus stadium the same day they hired Ray Watts as UAB’s new president.


If one drives by the properties in question (specifically the 12th St. South property), he/she notices most of the surrounding land is now controlled by the university; most of it converted to surface parking lots. An example of what the structures still standing are being used for is the building currently being used by the campus’s Barnes & Noble bookstore. It is scheduled to move into the soon-to-be-completed student center when it is finished next fall, making it available for future development plans.

The relocation of Alagasco as the result of the purchase of the 10th Street property eventually led to them purchasing a significant portion of the former TCI Iron Works property along 14th Street and a lengthy battle over the future of the historic freight depot on the site. The resolution of that episode led to the relocation of the depot to Rickwood Field for use as an enclosed batting cage facility.

Digging into the UAB athletics announcement: the historical role of the Southeastern Conference in all of this

bryant-denny-2011Student-athlete representatives from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) were among those arguing the case to not make financial aid to them guaranteed for all four years during last week’s NCAA Convention according to a USA Today. Their voices swayed some, but the new measure was approved by the autonomy schools (better known as the Power 5). It has been argued its approval, and that of the “cost of living stipend,” will make fielding teams much more expensive. Kent State University is saying in order to remain competitive as an FBS school it would be spending as much as $1.1 million based on its current athletics lineup. It is one of the reasons the school announced a $35,000 assessment of its athletics program on Monday, as first reported by the Akron Beach Journal. It is also the reason given by UAB when it discontinued football, bowling, and rifle in early December 2014.

How the Southeastern Conference plays a role

The position taken by the SEC student-athlete representatives (one also voiced by those representing the Big 12 during the convention) is of note because of its place in the history of athletic scholarships in collegiate sports. The SEC was the first collegiate conference to officially sanction athletic scholarships in 1935 – three years after it was created here in Birmingham because of a split from the Southern Conference due to its increasing size. (NOTE: The folks over at Saturday Down South have an excellent write-up on the early history and make-up of the conference that you should check out.) An account by former Birmingham News sports editor Zipp Newman in his 1969 book, “The Impact of Southern Footballpoints out another innovation introduced to college football by the SEC. It describes an “arms race” in the late 1920s resulting from 3 out of 4 victories by Southern schools at the Rose Bowl (between 1926-1929):

There was a lot of hypocrisy in the recruiting of players. Charges and counter charges were filed in the 1920’s and early 1940’s, The large schools of the East, Mid-West, and Far West could depend on wealthy alumni to take care of their players. I do not think there was anything wrong. The Deep South simply did not have the wealthy alumni.

Never has the football world been more shocked than when the Southeastern Conference in 1944 announced a grant-in-aid. An athletic scholarship that provided room, board, books, and $15 a month for laundry. These benefits to football players were openly handled and books kept by the individual universities and colleges.

The rest of the NCAA eventually moved to adopt grant-in-aid in addition to the letter of intent. Many, including Newman, argue their adoption was at least partially made possible by the election of A.B. Moore, a dean from Alabama, as NCAA president fifty years ago this month (see page 2 of this PDF of the 1985 NCAA convention newsletter along the right hand side, though the lower right hand corner of page 1 has an interesting story as well). The reasons why such a move was made has been hypothesized often in recent years, as evidenced by this commentary penned by the Orlando Sentinel in 2013. There have also been several published theorizing the potential ramifications of the approval of the new governance rules for the autonomy schools, including this piece from 2014.

What happens next?

The expansion of the financial aid to include a stipend follows in conference tradition; whether or not the implementation of guaranteed four-year aid will be beneficial in the long term with need to be determined later. The autonomy schools are prepared for the changes for now though, with Missouri already announcing their placing an additional $1 million aside in their budget to accommodate the increased costs (as told to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier today). It’s worth noting that according to the data we compiled for our January 19 piece, they were only providing a 1.99% subsidy to their athletics budget in 2013; the Alabama Crimson Tide was receiving just over 4% despite being one of the 20+ teams in the FBS to actually turn a profit. Missouri and Alabama have seen 19% and 29% decreases respectively in the percentage their overall budgets coming from state appropriations due to significant reductions in funding.

Photo: Bryant-Denny Stadium pre-game Alabama vs. Tennessee, 2011. File photo.

Digging into the UAB athletics announcement: The Joseph Volker equation

“We would do Birmingham a great disservice if we dreamed too-little dreams.”

– Joseph Volker

Joseph Volker as chancellor - UA ArchivesElizabeth, New Jersey native Joseph Volker adopted the heart of central Alabama as his own when he arrived in 1948 and always dreamed big. He cared greatly for this city and the university he helped found here, having the opportunity to impact both as not only its first president but as the first chancellor of the University System of Alabama.

He also never chose to start a football team at UAB while in either of those positions. The first team to ever take the field was approved only three months after he passed away. It’s not an angle many have not focused; most have chosen to focus on what Gene Bartow’s wishes would’ve been for the future of athletics. It only made sense to take a look at things that would’ve influenced Volker’s opinions on the issue — and to “hear” from the man himself.

Stops along the way

A look at Volker’s previous stops before his arrival in Birmingham (as listed in his Encyclopedia of Alabama entry) helps to start understanding why this may have been the case. He earned his undergraduate degree from Indiana University’s Dental School in 1936 after starting his collegiate career closer to home at Rutgers in 1932. That dental school is now part of Indiana University Purdue University Institute in Indianapolis. It did not start an athletics program until 1972 and, though choosing to go Division I, has never fielded a football team.

He continued his education at the University of Rochester, earning A.B., masters, and doctoral degrees. Volker would have been exposed to a football team, but not one that gave athletic scholarships. The Yellowjackets currently compete in Division III (though apparently their squash team is a perennial contender in non-NCAA sponsored competition).

His final destination before his move to the southeastern United States and what became UAB was Tufts Dental School in Boston, Massachusetts. The Jumbos do field a football teamone significant in the annals of the sport’s history. They are credited with not only playing the first game ever using what’s now known as the “forward pass” in 1875 against Harvard (a game they won 1-0), but for being one of the only schools in the country that does not allow their team to compete in postseason play. This is a strict adherence to the concept of being student-athletes and a reason they chose to become a Division III school when the designation was created in 1973. It also becomes glaring when you realize the 1927 Tufts football team went undefeated at 8-0 (as did the 1934 and 1979 squads); they joined Pittsburgh as the only two squads to do so that year (though Pittsburgh had one tie). Tufts outscored its opponents 218 to 19 that year. For comparison, the 1927 Alabama Crimson Tide went 5-4-1 (3-4-1 in the Southern Conference), finishing in 10th place that year behind a 7-0-1 Georgia Tech squad. There were no divisions in the NCAA at that time.

Editors note: There are a few other tidbits about Alabama’s 1927 season to consider as the overall UAB athletics story moves forward. The Crimson Tide only played three games in Tuscaloosa that fall; two non-conference games were at the beginning of the season, winning 46-0 over Millsaps and 31-0 over Southwestern Presbyterian. The only other game played at old Denny Field that season was against the school now known as Mississippi State; they won the homecoming contest 13-7 in front of 7,000 people. They played the rest of their “home” games on the road – three at Rickwood Field; one at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery; and their last two at their new “home” in Birmingham – Legion Field. Those first two ever home games in Legion Field were losses – to Georgia (in front of 25,000 people) and Vanderbilt (in front of 20,000).

A debt to the Crimson Tide

Volker tells the following story during his “The University and the City” speech to those gathered at the Newcomen Society in North America event on November 3, 1971. It speaks volumes as to a major reason a team never materialized during his tenure; it’s about the lack of housing options available for students shortly before the start of the 1945 academic year (emphasis added):

“Despite these extraordinary measures, the venture would have failed except for an unusual degree of administrative entrepreneurship. This was clearly evident when no legislative funds were forthcoming to provide housing for the students, faculty, and staff – and in the immediate post World War II period, living accommodations were in very short supply. The dilemma was resolved by the purchase of the residential properties that occupied the half block between 8th and 9th Avenues South and faced on 20th Street. This was made possible by a loan of approximately $350,000 from the University [of Alabama]’s Physical Education Fund of the Department of Athletics.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. By the way, the loan amount provided by the Crimson Tide converted to 2014 dollars is estimated to be valued at north of $4.5 million. The property is now the current home of the Doubletree Hotel on Birmingham’s Southside. It’s also adjacent to the space used recently by the UAB Faculty Senate during the no-confidence process in December 2014 and January 2015.

He continued, “As a newcomer to Alabama, I was immediately impressed with and am eternally grateful to the Crimson Tide.

A version of this story also appears in Tennant McWilliams’s written history of UAB, “New Lights in the Valley: The Emergence of UAB,” though the impact of the gesture on Volker is not mentioned. The book also contains a quote attributed to the then freshly-minted university president shortly after taking office in 1969. He was asked about the possibility of a football team during his first faculty meeting, albeit lightheartedly according to the author (p. 273). His answer, “Not currently part of the plan.”

This is not to say he never considered it, but another quote included in McWilliams’s book (p. 355), attributed to former University of Alabama administrator J. Jefferson Bennett, shines a light on why it wasn’t necessarily a priority:

“Joe [Volker] understood that football was the ultimate source of security for UA after the embarrassments associated with desegregation, despite many non-football accomplishments at [the University of] Alabama.”

The chancellorship

Joseph Volker was named the first chancellor for the University System of Alabama in 1976. He announced his retirement in 1982, choosing to return to UAB as a distinguished professor. One of his last interviews as chancellor was with The Tuscaloosa News on July 18, 1982. The front page, above the fold article was wide-ranging. This excerpt that follows should draw interest to those paying close attention to the current #FreeUAB movement attempting to take root in Birmingham — especially in terms of their beliefs of how UAB is treated by the University System’s board of trustees:

“Advocates of the University of Alabama’s historic campus in Tuscaloosa were opposed to the additional control being instituted over the campus. And by then an intense rivalry had developed between the University campus in Tuscaloosa and the booming UAB, and Volker’s appointment fueled fears in Tuscaloosa that with Volker’s ties, UAB would flourish at the expense of the traditional campus. Through the years, angry Tuscaloosa County legislators and others complained of incidents they said demonstrated that Volker either restrained or helped raid the Tuscaloosa institution to enhance UAB.”

The article goes on to point out frustration throughout Alabama in terms of the lack of restraint applied on any of the three campuses (i.e., growth and distribution of funds). Volker’s response to the accusations in 1982 is one worth considering currently as reform via legislation is being suggested:

“I think we have a system that’s flexible and we have three very different institutions, and I don’t find it surprising that the campuses have different needs and different opportunities. The campuses are in different stages of development. You have to view them in different contexts. You can’t view it as what’s good for one of them is right for another.”

Joseph Volker passed away on May 3, 1989, having been back at UAB for parts of seven academic years. Then UAB president Charles “Scotty” McCallum gave the school’s athletic director, Gene Bartow, permission to field a club team at UAB that August. It seems somewhat coincidental that “the father of UAB athletics” did not receive permission to field a football team until after the passing of “the father of UAB.”

UAB after Volker

The move was one done to help with the university’s image, especially in light of how it was described by the Wall Street Journal in October 1998:

“While UAB is one of the state’s biggest employers, many Alabamians think of it as nothing more than an urban night school.”

It’s a belief that appears to continue to this day, even in Tuscaloosa, as evidenced in this editorial (pay special attention to page 2) penned shortly after the decision to discontinue bowling, football, and rifle in December. The editorial (as well as the excerpt from the WSJ article above) shows the idea of adding football to change perceptions about UAB, specifically in the South, possibly drove McCallum to allow Bartow to field a team. This is despite knowing the fiscal strain it could place on UAB specifically, and the University System as a whole, as state appropriations to the schools were being reduced as far back as 1987.

McCallum was correct when he said the decision to end football was not one normally considered by the Board of Trustees, in part because he exploited that “gentleman’s agreement” policy when he sidestepped them and announced plans to start the team in 1989. McCallum’s concerns are primarily about protecting the autonomy with regard to athletics that he’d carved out with his decisions. Your opinion about whether or not that freedom still exists depends on how you choose to look at the decision to cut the three teams — and whether you believe the conspiracy theory or the numbers in relation to the University System’s current data.

It is interesting to note that one of the urban universities often cited when talking about the reasons UAB started a program is the University of North Carolina – Charlotte. Before returning to the field in 2013, the 49ers last fielded a football team in 1948, after only two seasons. When UNC-Charlotte was looking to bring the team back, one of the schools they reached out to was… UAB. The responses shared via The Business of College Sports the day after the UAB athletics announcement were quite enlightening. They implied that issues did arise as a result of the decision to start football and that they continued to exist.

As UAB, Birmingham, and Alabama continue to dream big dreams for its future, some will have to determine whether or not it will neglect the lessons taught in its past. Perhaps listening to Joseph Volker would help.

CORRECTION, 1.20.2015: An earlier version of this piece stated Volker’s arrival at UAB occurred in 1945. Volker actually arrived in 1948, though the story told during his “The University and the City” speech references an incident in 1945. Special thanks to UAB Archives for bringing the error in question to our attention.

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.

UAB and the larger Division I picture (and things to keep in mind about Legion Field)

UAB students watch the announcementAs we watched events unfold alongside students on Tuesday, much of the focus on UAB president Ray Watts’s announcement about the discontinuation of the football, bowling, and rifle teams has focused on UAB being the first NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school to do so since 1995. It’s important, but it’s necessary to look at the bigger picture in Division I in order to see a larger trend and to find a possible solution.

A review of a list of discontinued football programs shows that UAB is the sixteenth Division I school overall to make the choice in that time period.

Institution State Year discontinued

Current total enrollment

University of the Pacific CA 1995


Boston University MA 1997


University of Evansville IN 1997


California State University, Northridge CA 2001


Canisius College NY 2002


Fairfield University CT 2002


St. John’s University (New York) NY 2002


East Tennessee State University TN 2003


St. Mary’s College of California CA 2003


Siena College NY 2003


St. Peter’s University NJ 2006


La Salle University PA 2007


Iona College NY 2008


Northeastern University MA 2009


Hofstra University NY 2009


University of Alabama at Birmingham AL 2014


The majority of those schools compete in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) with 10 out of 16 located in the Northeast — the place where football was born; three other schools are located in California (including the largest of them, Cal State Northridge with more than 38,000 currently enrolled). It may not seem like it makes sense to talk about the FCS schools until you realize the most recent example of a relaunched program comes from those ranks — East Tennessee State University. As you can see above, the program did close in 2003, but is scheduled for a return next fall. The full explanation is included as part of an editorial over on Dear Birmingham.

Legion Field

Another angle that has received significant attention these last two days is the potential fate of Legion Field. The Football Capital of the South. Realize if all options are on the table, there are two things that need to be remembered.

Legion Field is McLendon Park — the football stadium is located within the largest piece of property dedicated to park use in the city of Birmingham. (Yes, Red Mountain Park is huge, but it’s technically overseen by a state commission; Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve is as its name change states, a preserve, and its managed by a non-profit organization.) If (as unlikely as it should be) considered options include demolition, file away the fact that it means we could see the land transformed into the city’s largest park. This could be seen as a catalytic project for the surrounding blocks.

Non-park use requires a public vote — Yes, it’s true. The property is dedicated for purposes related to parks and recreation. According to the city code, if it is to be used for any other purpose, a public referendum will need to be held and it pass in order for that new type of solution to move forward. The called meeting of the city’s Parks and Recreation board to discuss possible options is currently scheduled for next Monday.

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.