An insider’s view to what is happening with UAB


Rumblings have happened over the past several months surrounding the University of Alabama-Birmingham and their football team. Hard to believe, right? A football program in jeopardy in Alabama?! Well, things last night escalated fairly quickly, as UAB head coach Bill Clark said that he’s expecting the Board of Trustees to shutdown the UAB football program, just days after the season has ended and the Blazers are bowl eligible. Weird, right?

The rumors for a while was that the Blazers would continue to play until 2016, but last night it made it seem like it’s just a bomb waiting to go off, and move C-USA back to 13 members. But, of course, that isn’t important right now.

I originally reached out to Ryan McLaughlin, a UAB grad and fellow metro-Atlantain, to debunk the myths about the UAB situation. While the situation seemingly has changed, Ryan’s insight on why exactly all of this is happening is well worth the read. He gets a big wordy, yes, but it’s something he cares about, and if the WKU basketball program were ever in the same limbo, you’d no doubt want to talk as much about it as you can.

Please, if you have the time, read what Ryan has to say. Very very good stuff here.

When Fletch asked me to write about the myths surrounding UAB football, I didn’t know where to begin. It’s not just because there are just so many myths surrounding the program and the institution as a whole that it’s hard to describe to one who is from out of state exactly where these myths came from. UAB is in the heart of SEC country, so our average 21,000 fan draw not only looks bad in 72K Legion Field (be mindful that the On Campus Stadium proposal from 2011 that was shot down would have sat 27K), but looks paltry in comparison to schools who outdraw NFL teams.

Nov 29, 2014; Hattiesburg, MS, USA; UAB Blazers head coach Bill Clark (L) talks to an official in the second half against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at M.M. Roberts Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t heard already, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is currently fighting for the life of its football program. While many students, fans and alumni have voiced their concern and support, the powers that be seem to have gone silent. UAB is the state’s financial cash cow: the institution has a $5 billion-plus impact and employs 61,000 people (33% of the state’s population). For more information on these numbers, you can go to It generates more money than the other two schools in the system (University of Alabama and the University of Alabama in Huntsville) and has a greater effect on the economy of the state than detractors wish to recognize.

You see, in order to understand just why UAB Football is so looked down upon, you have to understand the politics of the state of Alabama. The Board of Trustees that governs UA, UAB and UAH is embedded in the state’s constitution, meaning that if any changes were to be made to the way things are conducted it would take a literal act of Congress (or, well, State Legislature). The other thing to note is that a large number of people in the state hold contempt for Birmingham, for reasons I won’t really get into right now.

So what do locals actually believe about UAB Football?

UAB doesn’t have any fans!!!
The most frequent argument that’s thrown out by those who oppose UAB football is that the program doesn’t have any fans. While UAB’s attendance numbers last year were awful at best (averaged just over 10K in 2013), coaching and lack of faith in the coaching staff had a lot to do with that. Garrick McGee had rubbed boosters, students and the fan base the wrong way, dismissed the best player from the team, and seemed to have lost his players as well. People expressed their concern by not showing up, thankfully McGee bolted.

But what about the years prior to that?
Well, Neil Calloway was our head coach from 2007-2012, and needless to say, it didn’t go well. Now, unlike McGee, Calloway was a standup guy – I worked for the team during his second year and he was the type of coach who you could tell most players would run through a brick wall for. The only problem was that he was not good at actually being a Head Coach. That and the fact that Jimbo Fisher was supposed to be the guy, not him (see this story here: After five years (including a 1-year contract extension in 2010) and an 18-42 record, hope was lost, it’s going to take time to rebuild some trust.

Now that Coach Clark has turned the fortunes of this team around, UAB has averaged just over 21,000 per game not including last week’s game against Marshall (2013 CUSA average attendance: 21,510). As a matter of fact, this season alone UAB would have sold out 3 games in their proposed on campus stadium. Nevermind the fact that students and fans wouldn’t have to travel 10 minutes away from campus just to see it. [ed. note – the Blazers are also bowl eligible for the first time in a decade.]

Nov 22, 2014; Birmingham, AL, USA; UAB Blazers quarterback Cody Clements (5) reacts during the second half against the Marshall Thundering Herd at Legion Field. Marshall defeated UAB 23-18. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Legion Field is extremely dangerous!
Legion Field ain’t in the richest part of town, but by no means is it dangerous. Now, I don’t have the numbers in front of me regarding safety in that part of town, but it’s well known that people in the Over the Mountain (read: Birmingham’s suburbs) don’t really care for that section of town. I’ve been part of the UAB family for seven years and have never heard of or witnessed an incident. However, perception is usually indeed reality for a lot of people so they won’t bring themselves to any part of the city that is actually Birmingham proper.

UAB just prints out and gives away tickets.
UAB students get free access to ALL UAB Athletic events. [ed. note – WKU does the same thing. As do many other institutions.] For some reason people have misconstrued this to believe that UAB just has ticket booths where they hand out tickets to anyone who just wants to show up. Because UAB can’t get people to pay $15 for a ticket. That of course is false, beyond belief. It’s ridiculous I have to even address that one.

UAB doesn’t make enough money to support the program.
As noted above, UAB draws in a vast majority of the revenue for the UA System. While that money is not necessarily made for athletics, the funding is indeed there. Not only that, but local businesses have thrown their dollars at making UAB athletic programs better! A few weeks ago, the board turned down a proposal bought on by the Blazer Football Foundation (Boosters and former players) along with local business owners who wished to build the team an indoor practice facility. The On Campus Stadium that was proposed in 2011 was backed by supporters who were willing to purchase PSL’s and help UAB invest in the facility. At the worst, the facility would generate no profit but have no losses. At best, it would have helped rejuvenate the southside of town where the new Regions field (home of Birmingham’s Minor League baseball team) was placed soon afterward.

More from Conference USA

It’s a waste of time to try and make Birmingham into something, run along now.
This is a thing. Really. As noted before, there is a fair amount of the state’s population that does not care for Birmingham. They do not wish to see Birmingham become anything other than the afterthought they believe it is. Birmingham is growing as a city, in population and respect, UAB has generated a lot of this growth, bringing new employees to the city as well as alumni who wish to stay and invest. The city has shredded the “Bombingham” label that has been placed on it since the unfortunate events that took place here during the Civil Rights movement. It is no longer just a city that is laying around waiting for a death sentence, it’s more diverse than any other place in the state and a lot of that is because of what UAB has done for it. As UAB has grown beyond imagination, so has the city, dreams that were once laughable are now achievable. There’s a Publix coming to downtown, entertainment districts are popping up, and best of all, Birmingham is coming alive again, and that’s the thing UAB’s detractors have always feared.

Thank you for your time.

Ryan McLaughlin hails from Snellville, GA and is an alumni of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (Class of 2011). Ryan works full-time for the UAB Office of Student Media and works part time for a local sports talk station.
For more of his opinion you can follow Ryan on Twitter at @EagleEye1906, or listen to his radio show on Saturday Mornings (WJOX FM Birmingham) which can be found via iHeartRadio or even TuneIn!

Nov 22, 2014; Birmingham, AL, USA; UAB Blazers players celebrate while they had a lead during the game against the Marshall Thundering Herd at Legion Field. Marshall defeated UAB 23-18. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports