My Home Town Birmingham: Can’t Support a Football Team

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The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson

OAK MOUNTAIN, Ala. – My home town.

That line from an old Andy Griffith episode keeps going through my mind this morning sitting in the campsite listening to the woodpeckers work.

Passing through my hometown of Birmingham on the way to Mobile this week, I heard a funny story.

In the biggest town in the biggest football state in the country, where football is the thing they can do better than anything else, they can no longer support another football team.

The president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham stood at a podium live on television and announced it was not economically feasible to continue subsidizing a money losing athletic program.

I haven’t seen anyone quote Gary Neal Drummond on this, but I doubt he’s happy. The coal magnate was as responsible as anyone else for starting the football program at UAB, to the consternation of Paul Bryant Jr., the son of The Bear.

Back when UAB football was first proposed, I wrote a column for the Crimson White newspaper at the other University of Alabama, the “flagship” university with a legendary winning football program that is still winning — and making money, lots of money — advising against starting a football team at UAB.

The main argument against it was the potential to further split the recruiting pool for the best high school players from Birmingham, but there was also the money. It would take subsidies from Tuscaloosa for years to get the UAB squad off the ground. The study announced by the UAB president this week showed it was never a profitable enterprise – perhaps because many people do not like going to games at Legion Field. You know, that black neighborhood with no parking.

But how could any university, especially one part of a larger statewide system with plenty of football to choose from, make the decision to build a multi-billion dollar stadium on campus for a money losing program? It just didn’t make sense. Hey, UAB had great basketball.

It never made sense to me to start another University of Alabama football team when the Crimson Tide represented that university name so well. But that does not make the immediate shutting down of football, riflery and bowling at UAB totally justified.

Many students and families had invested time, money and life decisions into being part of those programs. They are effectively being cut off at the knees.

From my point of view the decision to close the programs was probably the right thing for UAB and the University of Alabama system. But it could have been handled much differently, perhaps as a phase out — letting those students on scholarship finish their degree programs at least.

Oh well. That’s my hometown. Always shooting itself in the foot.

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.