Tamara Imam - Staff Writer

UAH briefly disbanded its hockey program in 2011. Photo from Wikimedia CommonsWhen UAB President Ray Watts announced the cancellation of the football, bowling and rifling teams on December 2, 2014, many were reminded of a similar announcement made several years ago by the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

In December of 2011, UA System Board of Trustees Chancellor and UAH Interim President Malcolm Portera pulled the plug on UAH’s Division I hockey program, dropping it to the club level.
A mere seven weeks later, however, the program was restored under newly instated President Robert Altenkirch.

In both cases, the primary reason cited was finances. Portera of UAH and Watts of UAB both claimed that the programs were not fiscally sustainable and that the funds saved from shutting down the programs were to be reallocated to ensure the success of the remaining athletic programs.  Both presidents claimed that they commissioned long-term feasibility studies before coming to a final decision.

In a campus-wide email on December 2, Dr. Watts announced the cancellation of football, saying that despite Coach Bill Clarks successful season, “investments in football were unlikely to produce a sustainable return relative to the required investment.”

While the decision to drop Division I hockey at UAH and to eliminate football at UAB were said to each have been made by each individual school, many suspect that both instances reflect foul play by the Tuscaloosa-based University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, which oversees the affairs of UA, UAB and UAH.

The Board of Trustees has often been criticized for favoring the larger and older Tuscaloosa campus to the disservice of the Birmingham and Huntsville campuses, which were initially founded as its extension centers.

“The most interesting part of the UAH story is that an interim president named by the system Board of Trustees is who initially killed the hockey program. You can interchange UAB into the entire UAH story and it’s the same song, different verse,” 2007 UAB graduate Emily Nelms Chastain said.

2001 UAB graduate and former Marching Blazer Elliot Brindley shared Chastain’s sentiments on the Board of Trustees’ alleged involvement in the ending of UAB football and UAH hockey.

“If a thorough investigation were conducted, I believe it would be revealed that the decisions to shut down UAH Hockey and UAB football were made by the UA BOT and announced by people whom they appointed to be the ‘fall guys’ in order to take the heat off of themselves,” Brindley said.

After replacing Portera as UAH president, Dr. Altenkirch met with community stakeholders and grassroots organizers to forge out a financial plan of support for Division I hockey, and less than two months after the initial decision was made, he announced its reversal. Some at UAB feel that removing President Ray Watts will similarly pave the way for football’s reinstatement.

“UAB football will not be reinstated until Ray Watts is ousted from the UAB presidency and a significant amount of money is raised by the UAB football foundation,” Brindley said.

The UAB Faculty Senate will vote on a resolution of no confidence in Dr. Watt’s ability to lead the university on Jan. 15.