Football: Effect of UAB football reinstatement


[ Mohammed F Emran | Web Editor ] Lucky Whitehead scored two touchdowns in the Owl’ 31-28 loss to UAB on Nov. 1, 2014.

Ryan Lynch , Staff Writer

After originally voting to disband the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers’ football program at the end of last season, the Board of Trustees for the state university system voted earlier this month to reinstate football in 2016.

The local community rallied behind the team; $17.2 million in donations was raised by Birmingham business leaders and the UAB Football Foundation.

But the reinstatement leaves more questions than answers for all programs involved, including that of Florida Atlantic University.

The Owls have had a history with the Blazers since they first started playing Football Bowl Subdivision football in 2004. Both programs eventually found their way into Conference USA at separate times.

With a season before Blazer football can get off the ground again, we take a look at the past, present, and future effects of UAB on the Owls.

UAB would not be in C-USA if they had completely abandoned football

It was almost guaranteed that if UAB had completely gotten rid of football, Conference USA would have forced the school to leave for another conference.

“It’s been clear that our folks aren’t interested in changing our bylaws to permit members who don’t have football,” Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said in an interview with on May 29.

Banowsky continued: “Relative to UAB and the possibility of them not starting it back, we appreciate how volatile conference membership change would be and have the interest of the coaches and student-athletes in mind when we consider a reasonable length of time for transition, which would probably be one year.”

The Blazers have been in Conference USA since 1995, originally moving into the conference as a non-football member. UAB is the longest lasting member of the conference, along with the University of Southern Mississippi (also joined in 1995). But without football, none of that would matter.

The Blazers would lose out on their football revenues, which was about $7.2 million. Not included in that picture are bowl-game winnings, which are doled out to all teams equally over a six-year span.

Basketball is the sport would have suffered the most. UAB has been one of the top teams in C-USA, with five NCAA tournament appearances. In the last NCAA Tournament, they got to the round of 32 as a 14-seed, after beating the three-seed Iowa State Cyclones.

UAB would lose out on larger tournament bonuses if they left, as they would have probably had to move to a smaller, non-football conference.

There is money to be made for a mid-major. According to Forbes, Conference USA made $10.5 million in 2014 from both bowl games and NCAA tournament, good for ninth in value out of all conferences.

Without that, the school would need more subsidies and loans to feed their $27 million athletic budget. That’s not a favorable situation for UAB, as a university or an athletic program.

The only question that remains: Will it last? The Blazers have the money and momentum, but without fans, the reinstatement won’t last long. The Board is not likely to be lenient to the Blazers after situation made them look like villains, and a failure with the second chance would not make anyone happy, and probably hurt the reputation of the Board of Trustees.

It’s sink or swim time for the Blazers, who now need the city of Birmingham to put their physical support in the team, not just their wallets. Empty stadiums don’t keep teams alive, and UAB will have to keep fighting Auburn Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide for support, too.

What this means for FAU:

In football, the Owls have played six games against UAB in the history of the two programs, with the Owls winning four of the six by an average margin of 8.25 points.

The UNC-Charlotte 49ers will take UAB’s spot, leaving the amount of teams in the east division at seven and the total number of teams at 13. While the numbers don’t suffer, the conference schedule does. The 49ers have not played an FBS team in their history, so expect a rude awakening come fall.

A weaker conference only helps the Owls in the present, but a strong conference is necessary to get a better ranking and make more money from the bowl season.
In the bigger picture, UAB will still participate against FAU in all their sponsored sports and UAB football will need a few years before it is competitive again. But, things will get back to the status quo after that, and the conference will be stronger.