University of Alabama at Birmingham announces results of Athletic Department strategic review

Addressing the financial impact of a changing NCAA landscape, the UAB Athletic Department’s strategic plan establishes investment priorities and announces the final seasons for football, bowling and rifle will be in the 2014-2015 academic year.

As part of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s campus-wide strategic planning process, President Ray L. Watts, M.D., today announced the results of the Athletic Department’s comprehensive review.

Designed to identify areas of excellence and set priorities for investment and growth, UAB’s strategic process requires leaders across campus to identify priority programs for future investment. The Athletic Department engaged highly knowledgeable outside experts and advisors from CarrSports Consulting, a leader in program advancement in intercollegiate athletics, to assist in the in-depth review and inform analysis and planning.

In order to more effectively invest in the success of priority programs that are most likely to bring national prominence relative to the necessary investment, the Athletic Department has determined that the final seasons for UAB football, bowling and rifle will be in the 2014-2015 academic year.

Financial Realities

Although UAB has a vibrant athletic heritage, the Athletic Department faces many challenges given the rapidly evolving NCAA landscape and soaring operating costs, which place extreme pressure and a growing financial burden on programs like UAB’s. Costs are continuously spiraling upwards driven by cost-of-attendance payments to players, meals, equipment, facilities, coaches, travel and more.

Within this environment, the Athletic Department had to consider options to right-size its investments to support and establish long-term plans for building and properly maintaining championship athletic programs. Planning relied on current and projected financial data, and analysis took into account this rapidly changing landscape.

“The fiscal realities we face — both from an operating and a capital investment standpoint — are starker than ever and demand that we take decisive action for the greater good of the Athletic Department and UAB,” Watts said. “As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the Athletic Department, football is simply not sustainable.”

UAB already subsidizes $20 million of the roughly $30 million annual Athletic Department operating budget, which is the fifth largest budget and subsidy in Conference USA. That equates to a $100 million existing subsidy from UAB to the Athletic Department in the next five years. In the new NCAA landscape over that same time period, the difference in scenarios in which UAB eliminates football or maintains a competitive Conference USA program is an additional $49 million. After those first five years, operating costs would only continue to increase.

From an operating budget standpoint alone, the difference between maintaining and eliminating football is more than $27 million over the next five years; this is in addition to the existing $100 million institutional subsidy. This investment does not include additional necessary capital improvements for facilities, which is estimated at $22 million for football facilities alone, including a field house, indoor practice facility and a turf field. This $22 million investment would not include an on-campus stadium.

“While this will be a challenging transition for the UAB family, the financial picture made our decision very clear,” Watts said. “We will not cut the current athletic budget, but in order to invest at least another $49 million to keep football over the next five years, we would have to redirect funds away from other critical areas of importance like education, research, patient care or student services.”

“These are challenging times in higher education with flat or reduced state and federal funding, and it is more important than ever that we take a close look at overall operations, set priorities and aggressively align our resources in the areas where we have the potential to make the most difference.”

UAB is the state’s largest single-site employer with great responsibilities to educate and provide world-class health care while advancing critical research across its campus.

“UAB must act strategically and responsibly to expand its positive impact for its students, patients, faculty and staff, as well as the Birmingham community, Alabama and beyond,” Watts said. “There is too much at stake to allow emotions to override prudent financial management of this institution.”

A Bright Future for UAB Athletics: a Sustainable Model to Build Championship Teams

In eliminating football, UAB will be better positioned to invest in programs where the institution can be sustainably competitive on a conference and even national level. Funds from discontinued programs will be redirected to more fully support UAB’s priority sports and build those into championship programs.

“We are not looking to reduce the athletic budget, but instead to reallocate our resources to remaining athletic programs,” Watts said. “This strategic plan will give us our best chance to win championships and national prominence. Many of our programs have been on the cusp, and funds redirected from football can propel them to the next level. The best days for UAB Athletics are yet to come.”

Top near-term priorities for UAB are to maintain UAB’s NCAA Division I status and remain in Conference USA, while providing assistance to the student athletes and coaches whose athletic careers at UAB end with the season. UAB will honor players’ scholarships and coaches’ contracts.

“It is our number-one priority to make this transition as easy as possible for our student-athletes, coaches and others affected,” Watts said. “We will support our UAB family and help impacted individuals make the best decisions for their futures.”

With the discontinuation of a program, per NCAA bylaws, players who decide to leave UAB to play elsewhere will not be required to sit out of competition the following season.

“I want the UAB family to know that this decision was not made lightly; that it has and will continue to be truly agonizing,” Watts said. “I know many will be disappointed. As a Birmingham native, UAB alum and sports fan,I am among them. I couldn’t be more proud of how well our student athletes and coaches have represented the institution. They have earned our respect and appreciation, which makes this necessary financial decision all the more difficult. This is not easy, but it is the right decision for UAB and our future.”

Brian Mackin Named Special Assistant for Athletics

At his request, UAB Athletic Director Brian Mackin has been reassigned from his position as athletic director to the newly created position of special assistant for Athletics. In this role, Mackin will be dedicated to assisting student athletes and coaches affected by the discontinuation of programs.

“While Brian has been leading the strategic review process for the Athletic Department, working closely with our consultants to inform and guide their analysis, he does not wish to lead our newly constituted Athletic Department,” Watts said. “I respect his decision and thank him for his 12 years of service. In his new role, Brian has a great opportunity to make this transition easier for the affected athletes and coaches as they work to make the best decisions for their futures.”

Senior Associate Athletic Director Shannon Ealy will serve as interim athletic director. Prior to joining UAB in 2007, Ealy served as president with the Bruno Event Team and director of Championships Marketing and Operations with the Southeastern Conference. He also worked in athletics marketing at the University of Florida. Ealy graduated with his master’s in Sports Administration from Ohio University.

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