Study: UAB football proved financially viable

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In March, the task force evaluating UAB’s decision to cancel its football program hired California-based consulting firm OSKR to produce an independent analysis of the financial number-crunching used to justify cutting the sport. Less than a month later UAB fired OSKR and hired Collegiate Sports Solutions out of concerns that OSKR, the same group that consulted on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Ed O’Bannon vs. the NCAA trial, could not provide an unbiased report. Still, OSKR continued on with its study, and the 156-page findings compiled by Daniel Rascher and Andrew Schwartz were released Thursday.

And they don’t look good for UAB.

“We find that the three sports in question did not cost the university anywhere near the $3.75 million indicated on UAB’s accounting statements,” the pair wrote. “Instead, after making the sort of adjustments suggested by the economics literature, we conclude that the three sports were effectively break-even to slightly positive. Football and bowling showed a modest positive return for 2013-14, the last year for which complete data was available. Rifle showed a deficit, but the three-sport balance was positive to the tune of $75,000.”

OSKR differs from UAB’s conclusions on two main points. First, the cost of the 85 required scholarships, the consultants say, are 65 percent less than what the university reported; OSKR cited the a full scholarship’s actual cost to the university, rather than the price UAB would have otherwise charged a regular student. Second, OSKR says UAB did not properly account for rising revenues from the College Football Playoff and increased ticket sales generated by a successful debut season under head coach Bill Clark.

Not only could the school afford to keep its football (as well as rifle and bowling) program, it could also afford to provide cost of attendance scholarships. “We conclude that going forward, anticipated improvement in ticket sales from 2013-14 levels and new College Football Playoff revenues will outpace new expenses from Cost of Attendance stipends and unlimited food allowances,” OSKR wrote. “Once these new revenues and expenses kick in, we anticipate the aggregate annual surplus from football, bowling, and rifle would exceed $500,000, even without including the anticipated but hard-to-quantify benefits to admissions and enrollment, donations, and media exposure.”

What does this report mean in the real world? Likely nothing. It’s more ammunition for those that would like to see UAB president Ray Watts removed from his post, but nothing more than that. UAB commissioned the study to provide a third-party analysis ahead of annual Conference USA meetings in June. The conference has hinted it may boot the Blazers from the conference, citing a bylaw that all of its institutions must sponsor a football program. UAB would like to remain in the conference, and Collegiate Sports Solutions’s report – not OSKR’s – will be what UAB uses to justify its decision.