BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Brandon Prince transferred to UAB to help his ailing father, a single parent, while still doing what he loves most: Playing football.
The redshirt freshman tight end sat out the Blazers’ surprisingly strong season after transferring from Austin Peay, only to see his hometown program get shut down Tuesday.
“It’s like SMU,” Prince said. “We got the death penalty without any NCAA violations.”
Now Prince and his teammates are left looking for new football homes and scholarships. They are eligible to play immediately if they transfer.
UAB became the first major college program since Pacific in 1995 to shut down football. The university said keeping football would cost an additional $49 million over the next five years, including $22 million in facilities and upgrades.
“As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase,” UAB President Ray Watts said. “When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the Athletic Department, football is simply not sustainable.”
Several hundred UAB students and fans gathered on campus for the third straight day to support the program that won six games to become eligible for a bowl game for the first time in a decade. Their efforts were futile, leaving coaches and staff looking for jobs.
UAB, which had a consulting firm conduct a study that included athletics over the past year, said in a news release that it subsidizes $20 million of the athletic department’s operating budget of some $30 million annually, and said both those numbers rank fifth in Conference USA. Despite the numbers outlined by UAB, Watts insisted at an afternoon news conference that the decision “is not about financial woes. This is about planning for excellence in the future in everything we do.”
Players cried and hugged after leaving the meeting.
An emotional coach Bill Clark, who just completed his first season with a 6-6 record, briefly addressed supporters, saying players, families and coaches were all hurting.
“This is one of the most difficult days that I have had to endure in my personal as well as my coaching career,” Clark said in a statement. “I am absolutely heartbroken for my players and my assistant coaches.”
He has two years left on a contract worth $500,000 annually. Watts wouldn’t give the specific cost of shutting down football. UAB’s deal for the opener with Tennessee alone called for either school to pay $925,000 to get out of the game.
Eliminating football jeopardizes UAB’s membership in Conference USA and associated programs including the school’s marching band, though the school said it hopes to remain in the league and Division I. Members of the band and cheerleaders joined in protests on campus.
Conference USA’s current bylaws require members to sponsor football. Commissioner Britton Banowsky said the league’s board of directors will decide UAB’s status.
“We don’t fully understand the decision, nor agree with it, but do respect it and the authority of the UAB administration to make it,” Banowsky said.
UAB is also the cutting bowling and rifle programs, which school officials said had cost a combined $400,000-$600,000 annually to operate.
Athletic director Brian Mackin will now serve as special assistant to the president for athletics. Senior Associate Athletic Director Shannon Ealy will take over on an interim basis.
Zac Woodfin, the team’s strength coach and a former player, said a decision to eliminate the program would hurt not only the 125 players and 50 coaches and support staff but also other sports that could see scholarship reductions, band members and fans.
“The trickle effect is going to be huge in a negative way,” said Woodfin.
Players and staffers were left trying to figure out their next move, which they hope includes playing in a bowl game.
“I love to play ball, and you kind of pull the plug from playing ball,” Prince said. “It’s like, What’s next?
“So many things are running through your mind. Are they going to reverse it? Are we going to go to a bowl game? Do we clean out our lockers? I hope we get a bowl bid and we’re able to play one more game as a UAB Blazer.”