Did you have an older sibling who was better at you than everything, and never let you forget it?
That must be kind of how it is for the second tier sports teams out there – you know, the overly hyphenated, the ones with a region in the title (Southeast Missouri Central at St. Louis University etc.), the ones named for Hogwarts-like mascots (go Gryffindors!) or Colonial silversmiths. The kinds of schools that would appear in a Key and Peele skit while the major state teams get all the glory.
Or take the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers football team. In a state where the Tuscaloosa team is number one, whenever someone mentions “Alabama football” or even “UAB” people still have to stop and think “Huh? Where? Aren’t y’all some kinda dragon or something?”
Truth is, the school has nearly 20,000 students in a historic city that is a hard-won bastion of civil rights progress. The football team, at 6-6, is eligible to be invited to a bowl in this post-season.
But on Tuesday, it all came to an end. The UAB football program is being revoked due to the scientific research from a team of “Office Space” Bobs stating “the numbers just don’t add up” and that “football just isn’t sustainable.”
I’m not from Birmingham, but my family is, so I feel an affinity there. I also played “non-revenue” sports for a Division III college. They didn’t pay me a dime in scholarships. And I loved Every. Single. Minute. Sports made me what I am today.
Which is why I feel so badly for these players—no matter how feasible the research behind the numbers around crucial spending that just can’t be done without more revenue, my heart goes out to them, especially the freshmen and other players across the country punished for circumstances beyond their control. There is nothing like walking through an airport terminal in your school travel uniform, feeling the pride, getting the stares, even the occasional autograph from an eager kid. It didn’t matter if 6 people came to our games; the memories light up my heart to this day.
(And the meal per diem wasn’t bad either!)
Usually such a sanction is because of cheating or someone’s bonehead crime/mistake (Penn State and Jerry Sandusky, Jameis Winston, etc.). But this, so far, appears to be simply a numbers game as the big conferences like the Big 5 (the Southeastern Conference, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pacific-12) grow bigger, and smaller conference’s like UAB’s Conference-USA grasp at straws.
I guess I should be happy that it’s not women’s programs being unilaterally cut here. At least they have Title IX to protect them; these guys, as one passionate player tearfully decried at the announcement, came from all over the country, thousands of miles, expecting to play. What now? For their scholarships? Their futures?
The announcement also affects all those tangentially related to the football program—cheerleaders, band members and so on. In other words, this is the first time since 1995 a Division I football team has been shut down—what will happen next remains to be seen. I just hope UAB at least gets to finish their season in a bowl. #FreeUAB.