UAB linebacker Derek Slaughter made a statement that is now all over Twitter and the internet by wearing his helmet to graduation. Back in December the football program at UAB was shut down by President Ray Watt and the Board of Trustees claiming they were losing money and that the money wasn’t in the budget.
The images and words that came out from that day in December on Twitter after the players learned their fate were awful to look at. Cheerleaders consoled players, players and coaches consoled each other and fans and students alike looked on in awe. As soon as Slaughter made headlines today, I was immediately taken back to that day where the decision dominated the news.
That decision has come under fire more now than ever in the passing months, as UAB seems to have overestimated costs and underestimated revenue for coming years. This comes per a report the university paid for which, among other things showed the school stood to make significant money through the College Football Playoff’s revenue sharing and UAB’s affiliation with the C-USA conference by way of the conference’s TV deal with ESPN.
I won’t go into details, but between the TV deal, and revenue sharing from the Playoff, UAB was in a better place than they led on. Their attendance may have averaged 10, 493 fans in the 2014 season which is pitiful for D1-A (fine, FBS) but that’s just one part of the puzzle. UAB, like many schools, made somewhat ridiculous claims about what its scholarships for student-athletes are actually “worth” which they can then include as fixed costs.
The bigger story here is that as schools drop various athletic programs, the most notable of course being Division 1 football the lines get blurred between university and corporation. On a smaller scale, programs of various sizes and success levels have dropped lower-profile sports such as swimming, golf, and even some baseball programs. However, when a football team competing at a high level, regardless of success, drops their program we are reminded that after college comes the real world and the real world is all about expenses and revenue and the relationship between the two. Colleges are supposed to be somewhat immune to this even though they are ultimately a business because they are seen as a place of endless opportunity and freedom. It’s where our future leaders are groomed and our kids go to grow and prosper academically, socially, and in every other way imaginable.
But beneath all of the masquerading , colleges are no different from the real world. They have ‘investors’ to please, high level ‘executives’ demanding raises and a reputation to showcase. This can be a factor with any school’s decision to cut a sports program but surprisingly rarely is. Most of the programs cut are either at small schools or just low revenue sports, and there seems to be no correlation between the teams that are cut with losing.
UAB itself was another prime example, never having a great team and having its share of losing seasons. Overall a slightly below mediocre program, with its last bowl game coming in the 2004 Hawaii Bowl. Nonetheless the cutting of the program seemingly came out of nowhere as the Blazers were coming off a 6-6 season.
Overall the report from consulting firm OSKR highlighted that the university’s decision was less about costs than, well actually we have no idea. Whatever led to the removal of the program was probably more of a vision for the school. Clearly there is something the school would rather be putting money towards these days than football. What that is we will find out hopefully sooner rather than later. The better question is does a school like UAB owe its students an opportunity to participate in intercollegiate athletics. I would say yes. They would probably say yes too and argue that they still do just not for their football team.
So does a school owe their student-athletes any kind of promise? Well corporations don’t exactly do that. So should this be as simple as a lesson that no one owes you anything in life? And that no matter how hard you work it can all be taken away at a moment’s notice? I don’t think it has to be like that. It is a valuable lesson to learn but one that we will all learn repeatedly throughout life. The experience and camaraderie of being a student-athlete is not one that should be tampered with. I think that the truest way a college can advertise as being a school that values itself and its students is by standing by teams and other programs and societies through good times and bad. That is how you can truly allow your students to grow and learn. Not by shutting them out midway through their college experience. And I do realize it’ll always be midway through someone’s experience, so yes I am saying that there is never a valid reason to cut a sports program ever.
My real and lasting concern is that although I’m sure many already have, that also players will stay. Because at the end of the day football or any other sport is a privilege. 99% of players will have to find jobs outside of the professional ranks and should be properly equipped with knowledge outside of the game they love so much. I think a player who stays at UAB and focuses academically in the end can be better off. They’ll be glad they had football but also glad that they had the eye opening realization that their entire life is lived post-football. I’m not hating on high level football. I love it personally and know it teaches many valuable lessons like accountability, teamwork, and selflessness. I hope that all of the players caught amidst this shuffle enjoy the rest of their time in college, whether it be playing for another school or staying as a student. Either way, they’ll be happy with the experience they took part in that can never be taken away. Maybe that will be the most powerful lesson of all.
Read more about the report HERE