ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.
1) Eventually, the U of A Trustees will cave
There is continuous and mounting public pressure for the University of Alabama System’s Board of Trustees to offer greater resources and attention to UAB. UAB is not the commuter school that it once was. About 18,700 students are enrolled at UAB, more than half as many as UAT has. If UAB’s student population was a city, it would be the 34th largest city in Alabama. Also, while only 40% of students at UAT are from the state of Alabama, nearly 80% of UAB’s students are in-state. These are students whose families have paid taxes to support the system. Their voice matters. If football really matters to UAB students (and it should), then they will fight for their program. Regardless of football, they should fight for their school. UAB Football may take a hit, but given time the Board will inevitably come to realize that greater athletic offerings can only help UAB, the System, and the State. #FreeUAB
2) The stadium does not make the team, the team makes the stadium
Mississippi State has had trouble filling their seats for years, and they have had some trouble filling their stadium even in the midst of the greatest football season they’ve ever seen. But there is no denying the talent of the team and the faithfulness of the fans. UAB might have trouble filling a stadium as large as Legion Field, but that doesn’t make the team any less legitimate. 30,000 fans in Legion Field looks empty, but that’s 30,000 people all coming to support their school, their community, and their team. A new playing venue would be good for the program, no doubt, but without any big financial backers it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. That is, of course, unless the Trustees begin to give UAB the financial support they give Tuscaloosa. If and when Birmingham builds their new indoor stadium, UAB could be a perfect tenant. It won’t necessarily be too big. After all, with 1.2 million people in the metro area, surely 40 or 50 thousand could show up a few times during the fall.
3) Soccer and basketball are good but not the same as football
What sport gets the biggest crowds, the highest TV ratings, and the most advertising dollars? It’s certainly not collegiate soccer, it’s not collegiate basketball–it’s football. Alabama has established itself as a football powerhouse, and there is no reason to rid UAB of the opportunity that is afforded to the two biggest schools in the state (and Troy, Alabama A&M, ASU, Samford, West Alabama, South Alabama, JSU, and Birmingham Southern). Athletics can play a huge role in attracting students to attend certain Universities, and with football being the most seen sport, it is unacceptable for a school the size of UAB not to compete.
4) Competition is a good thing
Google was started to compete with AOL and Yahoo. Apple began as competition to IBM. Competition is necessary to increase the talent of the team, and if UAB is given the ability to compete, it can only help Alabama and Auburn. We often joke that you have to choose the Tigers or the Tide, but that is only because they have been the only viable options for so long. If the Crimson Tide brand is so strong, it can withstand the competition, and the Trustees need to recognize that. For many, tickets to an Alabama game are too expensive or the travel is too much. Scheduling UAB games during smaller Bama games and away games could easily allow for brand growth and give more locals the opportunity to see a Division 1 football game. Beyond that, more in-state attendees means more revenue for the entire system. UAB football is good for the entire Alabama System.
5) Football does not tarnish UAB’s brand
The idea that a bad UAB football team would hurt the reputation of the school is wrong. By the same notion, it would seem that the academic validity of Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Duke is lacking because their teams have traditionally not been in the top tier of Division 1 football. It is obvious that this is not the case. While UAB might be largely graduate students, who may not be as likely to attend a football game, it is not as if a pre-med undergrad is going to pass on the chance to learn at one of the top medical institutions in the country simply because their football team lost to Louisiana Tech. It is possible that a student could be eating at a restaurant, and they hear the name UAB on the television on in the background, leading them to look up the school, visiting, and deciding to attend. Schools with powerful football programs see increases in applications, but having a bad year doesn’t necessarily mean that academic reputations will be hurt. Football can only help UAB.
Ultimately, UAB’s students, their parents, and the greater Birmingham community should call, email, and generally contact the Trustees and the administration to voice their support of their school and demand fair treatment from their leaders. Football can only help UAB–it can’t hurt UAB–and what’s good for UAB is good for Birmingham and good for the entire state and System.
Michael Bullington serves in the executive cabinet of the Auburn University Student Government Association and advocates for greater cooperation amongst the greater Birmingham community. You can follow him on Twitter at @m_bullington.
Let’s turn Birmingham around. Click here to sign up for our newsletter. There’s power in numbers. (Opt out at any time)
David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12 Advertising Agency and co-CEO of AmSher Collection Agency. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).