Earlier Monday it was reported that the shuttered UAB football program would be reinstated. Now, we have some details of how the rebuilding will take place.
At a press conference Monday evening, president Ray Watts and athletic director Mark Ingram confirmed that the football Blazers will indeed be returning to the university. It was Watts’ controversial decision to axe the football program in the first place last December.
When asked about the about-face, Watts stated that he didn’t want to dwell on the past.
“I don’t want pursue a lot of time looking back. … [It’s time for] healing and moving ahead,” Watts said in a press conference that essentially raised more questions than provided answers, adding in what will be a controversial comment that there was no “tangible” support financially when the initial decision was made.
The lack of details in the press conference, and the lack of contrition on Watts’ part, isn’t sitting well with some members of the media.
Few specifics. Few details. No contrition or admission of guilt. Same old Ray Watts.
— Kevin Scarbinsky (@KevinScarbinsky) June 1, 2015
Watts explained to the Associated Press prior to the press conference that his reversal came after spending the weekend in meetings with supporters of UAB football. According to the president, those supporters have agreed to cover the cost of a projected $17 million-plus deficit over the next five years. Watts added that supporters “raised about 10 percent of the estimated $12.5 million- $14.5 million needed for a turf practice field and new fieldhouse,” the AP wrote.
“Our students, our alumni, the city of Birmingham and now many community members have stepped up with commitments to cover that $17.2 million operational deficit,” Watts said. “That’s why we’re in a position today to make this decision.”
There are certain fundraising deadlines for bringing football back, but Watts declined to get into on specifics on that subject or the subject of just when the Blazers will begin play anew.
In his press conference, Watts confirmed that the Blazers will continue to play at the FBS level; there had been a school of thought that UAB could play at the FCS level for a year or two before moving back up. Additionally, Watts confirmed that UAB will remain as a full member of Conference USA.
That league had previously stated that UAB could not continue as a member if it didn’t have a football program. The conference has a rule that does not permit a member institution that does not have football as a sport, and was not inclined to rescind it.
The return of football to UAB won’t be immediate as the school won’t field a team until 2016 at the earliest. That’s when bowling and rifle, cut at the same time as football, will make their respective returns.
Watts was unable to state explicitly when the Blazers would take the football field again. He claimed in his press conference that it will be dependent on when the monies are raised, at which point he’ll make an announcement on a specific return date.
UAB will have a tough row to hoe in getting back to respectability in Conference USA, whenever they return.
After Watts cut the sport, all football players were permitted to transfer to another program without sitting out a transfer season. An estimated 55 of them — FBS teams are permitted 85 scholarship players — took advantage of the one-time deal. Reconstituting the roster and getting the team ready to play in 2016 will take a borderline Herculean effort for all involved. The coaching staff will also have to be rebuilt as most left for other jobs.
The key there is most, not all as one bit of reconstruction good news is that one of those who will be involved in the effort is expected to be the man who led the Blazers to bowl-eligibility for the first time in over a decade last season.
Bill Clark had multiple opportunities to take other jobs, both head-coaching and assistant positions, after the program was shut down, but opted to remain employment-free in the hopes that his team would be resurrected.
Now that that’s happened, Clark will be charged with the task of essentially building a program from scratch. Based on how he had already built the Blazers to a respectable level in Conference USA, I’m guessing this rebuild is in steady, firm hands.