Announced just over a week ago, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is ending its football program, effective immediately. The program began in 1991 and began playing at the I-A (FCS) level in 1996. The program was closed citing lack of financial viability.
Elsewhere in the story - how large a factor it played depends on who you ask - is the fact that UAB, as part of the University of Alabama system, shares a Board of Trustees with the campus in Tuscaloosa. You know, the one that's currently entering the inaugural College Football Playoff as the #1 seed. Said Board is heavily populated with Bama alumni, not the least of whom is its president, Paul Bryant Jr., son of legendary Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant. While the finances may have looked bleak, it seems something else - ensuring resources head down the pipeline to Bama unimpeded - may have been afoot.
Certainly, my heart goes out to the fans, students, alumni, and supporters of that program, but most importantly the players and coaches. While many may simply remember UAB football's 23 year existence as a momentary blip in the sports history, I have a different memory of the Blazers: That of conferencemates. I attended USF in the Conference USA days and have memories of playing UAB. And because our pasts were once intertwined, I'm hit with the gravity that it's not too improbably that we may again be kindred spirits. UAB and USF share a lot of markers: Young programs in have-not FCS conferences that are part of a state system with strong programs. Add to that our current underperformance on the field, and it's not hard to see shades of our own mortality.
UAB became the first I-A/FCS program to shut down since nearly two decades ago, in 1995, when Pacific closed its doors. It's entirely possible that they won't be the last.
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