A silver lining: a good thing emerges from the UAB football controversy

Tom Cosby
Tom Cosby

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a better Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is Tom Cosby.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

The late, great Fred Sington (himself a University of Alabama football All American) used to proudly say “I’m a Birmingham man. If its good for Birmingham, I’m for it.” Count me in, all in, on Mr. Sington’s team. And since I believe the killing of UAB football is not good for Birmingham, I’m not for it.

I’m surprised that more of our local leaders haven’t connected some rather obvious dots. For example, that having a Division 1 college football team is a huge component of student life here in the Deep South. And that without football, you can’t offer students the full undergraduate experience: homecoming weekends, parades, pep rallies, marching bands, tailgates, etc. Shouldn’t we now be concerned that, without football, young high school graduates will surely be less likely to choose UAB as frequently as they have in the past? (Oh, you ask, why does this matter? Reportedly, a study by UA’s own Hugh Culverhouse College of Commerce found that for every 1,000 students added to a university, there is an increase of $5 million in annual economic impact on the metro economy.)

So, yeah, I’m perplexed that more of our leaders don’t apparently see the correlation. Because if this decision is allowed to stand, and it results in a leveling off of or declining UAB student population, it will definitely have a negative effect on our overall economy. Not to mention losing our hard won momentum of continued improvements in Southside, midtown and downtown.

I’m also puzzled that more leaders don’t object to the Tuscaloosa-centric view that UAB need only be a major medical research university with more nationally recruited scholars and with a small commuter college attached. Setting aside the unlikelihood of scholars from the West Coast or Northeast permanently living here, doesn’t UAB have more of a mission to serve first generation college students and working class kids?

But who ever said that you couldn’t be a top medical research university AND have a robust undergraduate experience at the same time? It doesn’t appear that Stanford or Vanderbilt or Louisville or Cincinnati have problems with that. The point is, if we kept the full undergraduate student life experience, would it be so difficult to imagine UAB one day growing to 25,000 or 30,000 students?

And, finally, I’m disappointed in the gleeful schadenfreude directed at UAB football by some.  Can we not acknowledge the never-ending obstacles thrown up by the UA Trustees to make football success at UAB so difficult? Think back to the opposition to the hiring of Jimbo Fisher, the opposition to the on campus stadium and the opposition to building the practice facility. And isn’t it interesting that Alabama has played half the other teams in Conference USA with the conspicuous exception of UAB?

But despite these disappointing aspects, here’s the good thing, no the GREAT thing, that’s come out of all this. This brouhaha has accelerated a rekindling of Birmingham’s civic pride along with a fierce embrace of UAB. Our civic pride was already surging before this debacle but its now quadrupled since December 2 and you see it growing every day.

When has this city ever united like this behind UAB? For that matter, when have you ever seen this level of civic passion in anything? And unlike earlier generations of Birminghamians who years ago let out of state corporations call the shots here, these citizens are letting the UA Trustees know their outrage. And they are making it clear that they believe killing football has the real potential to damage both UAB and our city’s future.

I really believe that this nascent city pride that’s been building in Birmingham over the past five years was the one thing that the UA Trustees and their New York PR experts didn’t count on. I can well imagine that they assured each other that there would be a ripple of protest for a day or two from a “vocal minority” and then it would melt away. Boy, were they wrong. It’s now almost four months later and doesn’t show any sign of abating anytime soon.

In rallying around UAB football, it shows that the people of Birmingham have realized something the UA Trustees apparently forgot: “Its kind of hard to rally around a math class.” (Thus sayeth Paul “Bear” Bryant in one of his more famous quotes.)

So now more and more citizens appear to be rallying around a Birmingham vision of UAB that includes Division 1 football and robust undergraduate growth – a vision that is apparently at variance with the UA Trustees.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If it is indeed proven that football does create an unsustainable financial shortfall for UAB, I believe the funds will be made available. So personally, I’m very optimistic that UAB football will return.

I’m just hopeful that when it does, that this time around if the collective UA Trustees still feel that they cannot bring themselves to help Birmingham’s team, that at least they will get out of the way. Mr. Sington would want it that way, I truly believe.

Tom Cosby holds a BA from the University of Alabama (1969) and a MA from UAB (1974). He is a former VP of the Chamber of Commerce/BBA and is currently working on the Lyric Theatre, Rickwood Field, Birmingham’s Veteran’s Day Parade and bringing the world famous Appalachian Trail to Alabama.

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David Sher is the publisher of ComebackTown, a co-founder of Buzz12, a division of Intermark Group, and co-CEO of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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15 thoughts on “A silver lining: a good thing emerges from the UAB football controversy”

  1. “But who ever said that you couldn’t be a top medical research university AND have a robust undergraduate experience at the same time?”

    Exactly. That was the UAB that I wanted to be a part of as a high school senior, and that was the UAB I loved and was PROUD to be a part of during my four years as an undergrad. You can have both, and I think UAB should. 

  2. *It’s not just the people of Birmingham who have rallied behind UAB. People all over the country have stepped up to support UAB. While the city of Birmingham directly benefits from students, the entire state benefits from the money UAB contributes into the economy. Everyone should be up in arms fighting for what is right. Thank you for a great article.

  3. *I must say my Uncle Tom is Mr Birmingham and we all should listen! Thanks Tom for the great article, and wonderful bullet points that I may now reference in arguments. 

  4. Well said, Mr. Cosby.  I think that we can all agree that the UA Board of Trustees knows how to build a football program, but they show no sign of that when it comes to UAB.  They block the hiring of good coaches and force the hire of poor ones
    because they are personal friends.  Neal Calloway was given a contract
    extension when he was 11-25.  Can you imagine that being tolerated in
    Tuscaloosa?  Guess what?  When you win three or four games a season your
    attendance is poor.  Such a surprise! Who knew!  Claiming that you’re closing
    down UAB football because of poor attendance numbers is like cutting a
    running back’s feet off and then complaining that he’s slow running the forty
    yard dash.

    When UAB’s program was shut down after more than twenty years, what football facilities were left behind on campus?  Two small concrete block buildings containing coaches offices and the locker room, a practice field with a horrible surface known best for damaging the knees and ankles of the team, and three goal posts. 

    That’s it.  Seriously.  Oh, there’s a weight room, which is shared with all UAB athletes, and a training/rehab area, and the academic support building, but none of that was just for the football team.  The board approved a video room for UA football that cost ten times more than everything UAB football has put together.

    It’s not about UAB vs UA, though.  It is about good management of a huge state asset.  It is about a small group of people in power misusing that power without any review or oversight.  It is about corruption that would make a Chicago politician blush, then turn green with envy.

    UAB is the economic engine that drives Birmingham, and indeed the state of Alabama.  What is bad for UAB is bad for Birmingham and the metro area, and it really is that simple.  To allow people who live elsewhere to hamstring UAB for their own petty amusement and to feed a long standing grudge is somewhere between shortsighted and outright criminal.

  5. Thank you Mr. Tom Cosby! You care about your city and what is right! Now is the time for all Birmingham business leaders to let their voices be heard. Let’s all work to lift this dark cloud presently hanging over UAB. Excellent article.

    UAB football was not losing money . . https://sports.vice.com/article/screw-the-math-uab-can-afford-football-so-why-is-it-choosing-otherwise

    The UAB National Alumni Association has called for the UAB President’s immediate resignation . . . . . . .”We make this decision with the knowledge of the gravity of the situation.  UAB must have an effective President to lead this great institution that employs, educates, and serves the people of our state and nation.  UAB’s mission has been compromised during this crisis and should now take priority.”

  6. *Thank you Mr. Cosby for a wonderful article.  Your contributions to Birmingham are greatly appreciated.  Thanks for your support of UAB and UAB football.

  7. *”Alabama has played half the other teams in Conference USA with the conspicuous exception of UAB”.

    And UAB has played almost every SEC team, with the exception of Alabama.  Hmm?

  8. Tom, great job of “telling it like it is”.

    On a recent trip to Nashville, I was surprised to learn how many local residents where aware of the UAB debacle and , more importantly, how they unanimously expressed shock towards the decision and sided with restoring the program. It occurred to me that whenever blatant overreaching power, control, and the imposition of one’s will on another for exclusive benefit are found …themes that universally signify abuse…..people removed from the situation firsthand often see the facts more clearly and without emotion.

    I also hope this is a rallying point for all of Birmingham to unite and move forward in a positive manner!

  9. Well said Mr. Cosby, At this pint I suspect that Dr. Watts’ integrity is completely gone. He has not one iota of support except for the UA BoT. I believe they are morally bankrupt. Reading Sundays Birmingham News the UA BoT and Bryant Bank appear to be more like the mafia than a group that has the best interests of all the schools within the system.

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