Nicolas Lewis over at Underdog Dynasty has been relentless in his examination of UAB's decision to terminate football. His work has been thorough, painstaking, and vetted using public sources and personal interviews (Seriously, check out the StoryStream he has compiled.) To be honest, his coverage has been refreshing, in that most of the #takes we hear from UAB students and fans (and allegedly "justice-minded" outsiders) are simple-minded #FreeUAB mantras, as though slapping on a Blaze bumper sticker and invoking that phrase were anything other than a glib understanding of the issues at play here.
Unfortunately, what he has also discovered is a deeper rot, one which goes to the core of the UA/UAB relationship that we've always known exists, but which has so rarely been cast into stark relief. Today, after yet more research, Lewis gives us again another dose of the overarching UABOT plan: In short, it has nothing to do with football. It's about butts in seats -- a program for student enrollment and campus expansion that would see Alabama become one of the five largest public universities in America.
Both UAB and UA have changed and grown over time (both in size and composition), and this has likely caused similar shifts in the type and number of students who find each place appealing. UAB, the booming undergraduate campus, draws a very different crowd than UAB, the glorified med school, did, just like a 36,000-student UA campus would attract a very different student than a 25,000-student UA campus.
The termination of football arises in this context then not as the end itself, but as a means to accomplishing that end. Tuscaloosa explicitly wants to carve a population niche comparable with Ohio State or Florida -- as big as possible, as quickly as possible; full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes. However, the outcome of that business model makes, or would have to make, all-but the most callous Alabama partisan somewhat queasy in the treatment inflicted upon one of our sister schools, one that does in fact carry the "University of Alabama" brand. It is nothing less than resource cannibalism at worst, and at best is the long-term dismantling of UAB as an undergraduate institution, with benefits of that decision inuring to UA.
Sure, not all of his conclusions are ones I espouse. For instance, Lewis focuses on the Machine and the role of Machine politics. Here is Underdog Dynasty quoting approvingly a 1992 Esquire piece.
The Machine is the academy for people going into state politics, so it's part of the problem. First off; Greeks leave Tuscaloosa with too many of the wrong friends to ever be effective reformers. They aren't going to campaign against the network they raise money from. For another thing, the Machine — an unaccountable group meeting in a back room as kingmakers — offers outmoded political lessons. The people who are brought up in this fashion are good organization men, and very polished to boot; but they aren't necessarily good politicians. They tend to feel entitled. No wonder Alabama is alone among the Deep South states in never having elected a New South governor.*
It requires willful blindness to not see that the Machine does wield disproportionate influence in state, local and Board politics. And, yes, the sons and grandchildren and present initiates of Machine Houses do have a vested interest in maintaining status quo, including the University of Alabama football apparatus. Further, I do not believe that he focuses enough on the fact that there are true FOGs** on the Board of Trustees, ones who believe that the UA/UAB status quo means oppression on the field of play rather than an expansion of the Alabama campus (and diminution of the satellite one.) It also simultaneously dismisses the fact that UAB and the UABOT have invested considerable money (and will do so in the future) on men's basketball. Further, by focusing on the canvas of overall Alabama and University politics (the Machine,) Lewis does a disservice to the primary issue here: Money. It's about the money. Anyone who says it's not about the money stands to profit a great deal.
This is a fascinating story unfolding before our eyes. It is one that impacts both the reality and perception of both campuses and the state. Over the coming days, Underdog Dynasty and I will be fleshing out what the actual plan for campus growth is, the monetary, athletic and political dynamic, and how UAB football both became embroiled in this battle, while at the same time is actually secondary to the larger aim of the Board of the Trustees.
Take a while to read his excellent journalism. Approach it with an open mind (and a lot of adult beverages.) Feel free to reject his conclusions or more tenuous arguments, while at the same time appreciating that this is an amazingly complex situation. And, if you have any questions you're dying to have answered, drop them in the comments below, or over at his site.
Lastly, enjoy the ride. It's the offseason, and this is not going away.
* New South Governor: Usually a Democrat, but also commonly known as a business-minded, socially-progressive moderate republican. This model rejects the agrarian, planter-based model of Southern economic growth preferring modernity and interconnected commercial systems. As of the 1992 article, Alabama had not elected a New South Governor; however, Don Siegelman's election in 1998 ended the streak.
** FOGs: "Football-only Gumps"