UAB football fans send out SOS

By Hunter Ford
An old friend recently contacted me about setting up a meeting to try and motivate UAB football fans to better support the Blazers.

UAB football is on life support right now. I believe it could be resuscitated.

UAB football has several problems, some that could be remedied quickly and others that will take awhile.

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The Blazers must get more fans to games. The easiest way to do that would be to win games and create some buzz.

UAB has had some decent teams in its 12 years of playing Division One college football. But in order to earn respect, the Blazers must win seven or eight games each season and consistently finish in the top of Conference USA, which would mean playing in the conference championship game.

The Birmingham Metro area has plenty of talent. UAB should focus on keeping as much of its homegrown talent as possible. If Joe Schmo plays at Jess Lanier and has offers from UAB, Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic, there’s a good chance that Joe might want to stay close to home, play at a school that will be on TV a couple of times and vie for a bowl appearance, rather than go somewhere unfamiliar. Keeping local players ensures that parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and friends can see Joe play, which means more people in the stadium.

UAB has two big political problems. One is with the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. The UA Trustees have little concern for UAB athletics. The board refused to even consider hiring Jimbo Fisher, saying he commanded too high a salary. You can see the obvious hypocrisy when the board hired Nick Saban to coach in Tuscaloosa to the tune of $4 million per season.

But UAB fans are unwise to try and make enemies with powerful Alabama boosters. Agitating these folks will only result in bad things. It’s also unwise to alienate otherwise good natured “average” Alabama fans by making the Crimson Tide a phantom villain of UAB’s. I believe there are many Alabama fans that would take in a UAB game or two each year if they aren’t made to feel unwelcome.

The other political problem is with the local government. While local politicians continue the insane quest for a domed stadium, UAB remains married to Legion Field for better or worse and til death do they part.

The ongoing debate about a domed stadium has resulted in a negative publicity attack on Legion Field that is really not truthful.

Legion Field is a classic. Like an old muscle car, Legion Field’s main structure is very sound. It occasionally needs new paint and parts, but it is solid and deserves to be taken care of.

UAB could fill an important niche in the Birmingham community. UAB games are affordable… they are good entertainment…they are easily accessible. The positive aspects of UAB football must be played up. The false negative statements about Legion Field must be rebutted. And UAB fans must be smarter about their relationship with Alabama fans. UAB football could still work.

31 Comments

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  1. 1
    Bama Fan in NYC

    Until The University of Alabama and The Alabama PolyTECHnic Institute dies off, UAB will never receive any more support than they’re receiving now.

    If you spend one day tailgating in Tuscaloosa, you’ll never care to return to Birmingham ever again, because there’s a better opportunity waiting just down the road.

    I know for a fact tailgating isn’t very exciting in Aubarn, but I also know it’s twice as more exciting than it is in Birmingham.

    Alabama and Alabama PolyTECHnic Institute will always stand in the way of UAB and fan support. In another words, they’ll never receive any more than they do now, unfortunately.

  2. 2
    intheknow72

    I’ve been to a UAB game or two, and they weren’t bad outings. However, to me the biggest problem you mention is simply where Legion Field is. Let’s face it…Legion Field is in the hood. The security I felt when going to Bama games there came in numbers. 85,000 converging on an area like that versus 8,000-10,000 is two different feels. Call that racist, or call it common sense. But I’m not taking my family into an area where I feel like they are at risk, especially when it’s just a “recreational” outing.

    I also agree with your take on UAB fans. They are downright combative, and you’re right in saying that if they didn’t get their backsides on their shoulders so easily, referring to The University of Alabama as “UAT” and other crap like that, they could really build an alliance that could put butts in the seats. They can’t count on Auburn fans to come; heck, Barners don’t even go to their OWN games.

    But another problem you didn’t mention is the coach. He is the face of your program. Though his very image turns my stomach, Tuberville sells his program very well. Saban is becoming the face for us as well. But Neil Calloway has the charisma of a half eaten Reuben sandwich. There is absolutely nothing sexy about that hire. Can you imagine if Jimbo Fisher were the coach? The buzz created there would be incredible.

    I don’t fully understand riff between the board of trustees and UAB, but know UAB hasn’t done much to heal any wounds. Whether it’s right or not for them to have to walk the longer distance to resolve any differences it moot. UA has all the power, and until UA decides to let UAB come up for air, the Blazers are stuck where they are.

  3. 3
    berman

    i didn’t realize uab actually had a sincere fan base. every student i know that either goes or went to uab was an alabama fan.

    Count this as my signature:

  4. 4
    Bama Fan in NYC

    I actually never knew UAB fans refered to UA as “UAT” in such a sneer way. I always thought that was the Auburn fans’ ingenious solution to dealing with being the second rate school, named after a cow pasture, by attempting to bring Alabama (are you surprised) down to their level. Either way, I’d much rather be known by something I’m not (UAT) rather than something I am (The Alabama Polytechnic Institute).

    As far as UAB is concerned, if their two or three true fans truly do make such weak and humorous insults, much like the Barnies, it’s completely understandable seeing how they are The University of Alabama’s extension school first primarily built for students who had difficulties learning at UA, just as Aubarn University – Montgomery was before we sold the school to Aubarn.

    I take it being overshadowed by the flagship institute forces you to call your father names that a kindergartener would call a fifth grader.

    Oh well, as I said, I’d much rather be known by something I’m not (UAT) rather than something I am, The University of Alabama – Birmingham extension or The Alabama Polytechnic Institute.

  5. 5
    Daddio

    Good ideas for the fix, but the first and most important is to move the games ‘over the mountain’ even if you have to play in a high school stadium. Legion Field is a grand old lady, but ‘Intheknow72’ nailed it. It’s the same reason I hate to go to Atlanta. If the powers that be would take in a Samford game or two, they might start ‘getting it’.

  6. 6
    Pluto

    The problem is the Head Coach. His style is 3 downs and a cloud of Dust. Callaway has got to be fired ASAP. The program has got to be personality driven and sadly Neal has the personality of a Pet Rock. The Conference Sucks. There needs to be some kind of Tsunami Event to realign everything to make Regional sense. UAB must break from the UA system.

  7. 7
    Hunter Ford

    Pluto has a great point about the conference and needing to make making regional sense…right now UAb is in with Texas schools and with Tulsa.. UTEP SMU Tulsa and Houston should be in a different league

    Here’s a Conference lineup that might be better

    Some combination of Florida and Louisiana schools with
    UAB
    Troy
    Memphis
    Southern Miss

  8. 8
    julio

    intheknow, the rift between UAB and the Board isn’t really hard to understand. In fact, I’d hardly call it a “rift”. The Board of Trustees isn’t going to do one damn thing that could even smell of damaging the Bama football program, and those trustees (correctly) believe that it will hurt Bama if UAB were to build a credible football program. It’s the same reason that Auburn and Bama (wisely) refuse to play Troy or UAB. Any credibility those teams receive is harmful to Bama and AU. The problem is the blatant conflict of interest and lapse of ethics that occurs as a result of the Board acting in that manner. Those trustees have a responsibility to do what is in the best interest of UAB, and they are intentionally doing the opposite on this issue. Refusing to hire Jimbo Fisher b/c of money, and then turning around and signing Saban to the richest contract in CF history is a blatant example. Every one of them ought to be impeached.

  9. 10
    Ballplay Indian

    UA is the man. You know the evil power broker? The man keeps his boot heel on the little guy. Screw the man.

  10. 11
    Ballplay Indian

    And hunter…Its a good thing you like Legion Feild, cause that s prbably where Bama will be bowlin. Can you say PaPa Johns ? BWAHAHAHAHHAHHAHHAHAAA!!!!!!

  11. 12
    Kevin

    That’s actually a good assessment of the situation at UAB, Cappy. I honestly don’t believe the UA BOT will EVER allow UAB to have a viable program. And honestly, no Auburn or UAT fans should have any concerns about UAB’s program. UAB can have a decent program without stepping on the toes of either SEC school.

    Alabama has got to be the only state I’ve ever been in where a scenario like this — to “keep UAB in its place” — could exist. It’s absolutely ridiculous. UAB and its students should be “allowed” to develop a full array of student life activities without interference — and that includes athletics.

    I realize the UA BOT will always just want UAB to “shut up and do research” and nothing else (including undergraduate education, if they could stop it), but that genie is out of the proverbial bottle.

  12. 13
    capstonereport

    I don’t think the UA board is holding UAB back. IN fact, if UAB students really wanted Division 1 football, they’d have supported Watson Brown.

    UAB football was forced on the student body by Gene Bartow, and long-gone UAB administrators.

    UAB students go to UAB for an education. They don’t go there for athletics. If they wanted athletics, they would pick a place like UA or AU. Simply, they want to graduate and are most interested in academics. How many colleges can boast that?

    UAB should be proud of its non-athletic heritage. They are a bastion of academic and research excellence amongst the sports obsessed, party schools of the SEC.

  13. 14
    BlazerBoy

    capstonereport, your statements are valid but only regarding football. The blanket statement about athletics is false and you should know better. UAB Basketball has achieved the highest success as Alabama and Auburn in men’s basketball; the Elite Eight. Gene Bartow’s vision and follow through with founding the bball program in the late 70s was nothing short of miraculous. I happen to remember a 58-56 UA loss in the first round of the NIT at the hands of the boys from B’ham in 1993.

  14. 15
    capstonereport

    I happen to be a fan of UAB basketball. I thought b’ball was the best idea for an athletic program. Of course, Bartow thought you must have football to compete in B’ball. However, that isn’t true.

    The biggest mistake for the b’ball program was to start football. It drained resources from b’ball. Just think of all those donor dollars wasted on football that should have gone to b’ball.

    And since b’ball passion isn’t as deep with UA or AU, then you can draw fans.

    I’ll admit, I’d prefer going to a weeknight game at the BJCC or Bartow Arena over the long drives to Tuscaloosa or Auburn.

    Another thing about b’ball, UAB made a big mistake going to C-USA. They were a power in the Sun Belt. Sure, it is a lesser conference, but I’d think people would tolerate 20+ win seasons with a few big out of conference games each year, and making the NCAA tournament. People say you need big games…well, UAB when it was winning had better attendance playing no-name teams than it does today when it brings in some bigger names.

    People like to win. Dominating a smaller conference would’ve been a great way for UAB to attract fans.

  15. 17
    Kevin

    Cappy,

    I think you are totally wrong. And I know this from people in a position to have the facts. UAB students are changing, along with their campus. The campus is becoming more residential, and the students are becoming more traditional both in age and expectations. UAB used to be a commuter campus for people getting their undergrad degrees at night. It’s now developing into a complete institution, and that includes student life.

    It takes time to build a viable football program, EVEN WHEN you actually have the support of your BOT and you don’t have to play in a dump like Legion Field. That’s a depressing place to go for a game, but God forbid the BOT would allow UAB to build a small stadium on the campus (and yes, the land is there).

    No, there is definitely a concerted effort (led by Bryant Jr., of course) to keep UAB football down, and eventually out.

  16. 18
    Kevin

    Sorry, Hunter, I missed your byline on the original article. Your assessment is very accurate in most ways. I know you know people inside of UAB, so I assume that’s where you are getting your info.

  17. 19
    capstonereport

    Where exactly is the land on campus for a stadium? I’d like to know, because I’d be in favor of turning it into a parking deck since I’m willing to bet that is a bigger problem for students today than anything else. 🙂

    UAB can’t fill the basketball arena, what makes anyone think they could fill a 20,000 seat football stadium? 10,000 seat stadium?

    As for Legion Field, I go to Legion Field every year for the AHSAA state football championships. More people attend the 5A and 6A games (sometimes the 3A and 4A games) than UAB football games.

    It isn’t just location. (Though that plays a factor.)

    People know good football, and UAB isn’t it.

    As for the student population at UAB, yes it is more traditional. That is a combination of factors, as the University has recruited more traditional students, and the state legislature screwed the public by forcing UAB to shift to the semester system instead of its hybrid 12-week trimesters. The old system was ideal for people who had to work and attend college classes because even day classes only meet two days per week. Many people could attend classes during the day and night.

    But that changed thanks to the morons in Montgomery.

    Anyway, I’m willing to bet more UAB students attend games in Tuscaloosa and Auburn on a Saturday than even know when or where UAB is playing.

    And I don’t think that is a tragedy.

  18. 20
    Bama Fan in NYC

    It is true, Capstone, the vast majority of UAB fans do spend their Saturdays in the fall, right down the street in T-Town.

    I’m not speaking on behalf of the entire student/fan body, but I’ve interacted with several UAB students on gamedays at UA. Of course, if you’re a UAB student, you’re more than likely an Alabama fan, unless however you transfered from The Alabama PolyTECHnic Institute, then you may support Alabama PolyTECHnic Institute instead.

    Regardless, there’s more energy, excitement, and activities going on at UA on Saturday’s in the fall than at the Birmingham extension school.

    Who would wanna waste their day at a campground when there’s a massive party going on just down the street?

  19. 21
    intheknow72

    In my opinion…and that’s all it is…there is plenty of land to build a small stadium on the present soccer/intramural fields near the tennis courts and behind that hotel (is it a Days Inn?) just off I-65. I used to play in a city intramural flag football league there and would remark at the amount of open space seemingly in the middle of nowhere down there. They might have a shot at filling it if people felt safe. But again, I go back to my original assertion on that subject. That keeps more people away than alliances. If Bama is on the road and UAB is playing in town against Mike Price’s UTEP or Memphis (who always has a “Heisman candidate” longshot running back) or some other quasi-interesting matchup, and I don’t feel like I’m going to get capped by going, I may spend the $15 for a ticket (which is all it should cost) and go.

  20. 23
    UAB 58 UA 56

    Bama Fan in NYC: I always find it funny to hear Bama fans talking about the “flagship institution”, or talking about how great the “school” is at Tuscaloosa. I don’t know about whether you graduated from UA or not, but most of the morons that get on the talk radio shows, and the ones that espouse that there is a great “school” down there are people who never went to college period. They are people who have gotten caught up in the passion for a college football team and therefore they defend the “school” in every way.

    I have some friends that have graduated from UA and they are by and large nice, rational people who understand that football is not life or death. They root for their team as much as anybody, but they don’t HATE anyone who is not a fan of their team.

    They also received a fine education there. It is pretty simple, if you want to become a lawyer or an engineer you go to UA. If you want to become a doctor you go to UAB.

    If you are only driven to go to a school because of a sports team, you weren’t really there to become anything.

    But, as I have said before, I seriously doubt that any of the people that go on the internet and act like morons talking up their college while talking down other colleges have ever been to college at all.

    Therefore they may have a good idea of how good the football team may be, but no idea about how well the “flagship institution” is doing.

    UAB 58 UA 56 graduated from UAB in 1997.

  21. 24
    BamaJY

    I love reading the various articles on this site and never comment, but I will make an exception this time:

    Could the BOT’s decision to block the hiring of Jimbo Fisher been a business decision rather than the petty “he might steal some of UA’s football thunder”? Consider: UA paid $4M a year for Coach Saban. Cecil Hurt wrote an article talking about a coach being an investment and I agree. Look at the results. UA athletic department reached $60M in revenue or some increased figure. But the UA athletic department (fueled by football), operated in the black and could afford to make that investment and then receive the benefit.

    UAB on the other hand is struggling to pay the bills in their athletic department. Let’s say Jimbo Fisher would have been a great investment for the football/athletic program. How can you make a significant investment ($750K/year I believe) when you can’t meet your current obligations? Plus the payoff would not have been immediate. So, the school would have been supporting the athletic department even more (which can be a publicity nightmare).

    Is it probable/possible that pettiness on the part of the BOT was the reason that Jimbo Fisher wasn’t hired? Yes. But it is also as likely, maybe more probable, that it was a business decision to keep from sinking farther into the red. Besides, if the BOT din’t want UAB athletics to have a better team than UA, why did they let them hire Mike Anderson and then Mike Davis?

    Sorry for War & Peace, but wanted to share those thoughts.

  22. 26
    Hunter Ford

    Let me focus on Legion Field for a moment. I still say there is nothing wrong with it that couldn’t be fixed.
    Legion Field was built in the 1920s and I hear some people talk about how old it is.

    When was Bryant Denny Stadium built? Sanford Stadium in Athens? Tennessee’s stadium? Jordan Hare?

    Most of the SEC stadiums and many other major college football stadiums were built in the 1920s when American football began to explode in popularity.

    Legion Field is not any older than the majority of SEC football stadiums.

    Go back to this analogy… Legion Field is like a classic muscle car… the frame is solid and can last forever, it just needs new parts and paint sometimes
    In Tuscaloosa we got a Boss Mustang with a Hemi and a modern stereo system
    In Birmingham we’ve still got the original that is falling apart…we just need a kit to trick it out and get it running again

    That’s the stadium itself…. The Neighborhood? That’s another story but it could be fixed also.

  23. 27
    capstonereport

    Talking about Legion Field, Ruben Grant the great high school sports writer here in Alabama, once wrote a column that the AHSAA should move to the championships out of Legion Field because of the area around the stadium.

    He argued that the area was horrible for events like football games because there is nothing to do. Where do you eat? Where do you go to stay?

    If UAB played its games at the Hoover Met, you could answer many of the problems caused by Legion Field.

  24. 28
    Hunter Ford

    I think that’s a great idea. The Met would have to be expanded to meet D-I requirements, or more boldly, have UAB make a move to drop football to the I-AA status. Hoover officials have told me they would love to host UAB football

    The area around Legion Field is in terrible shape

  25. 30
    Hunter Ford

    Yes, but I thought that Division one meant both D-IA and D-IAA (now subdivision this or that)

    After those categories you have D-II and III

    If I remember correctly UAB was forced to make a decision to drop its D-III team or move quickly to D-IAA because basketball was D-I UAB then decided to make a quick jump to D-IA all the rules could have changed since then

  26. 31
    Legion Field

    When was the last time…or when did a major crime ever happen at legion field before or after a UAB game..or any legion field event? Whats the deal with all of you sissies whining about how you are afraid to go to legion field? Afraid to go to legion field…but will travel hundreds of miles to see Alabama play in a dangerous dump like Baton Rouge. Save all of that B.S.

    The reason why nobody is supporting UAB football is because the Blazers suck. If they were winning…the attendance would increase.

    Are you people forgetting that Alabama used to sellout legion field?…in that SAME LOCATION?

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