UAB confirms football, rifle and bowling programs will be shut d - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

UAB confirms football, rifle and bowling programs will be shut down

Emotional players and staff hug following the meeting with Dr. Watts. (Source: WBRC video) Emotional players and staff hug following the meeting with Dr. Watts. (Source: WBRC video)
Students and supporters waiting for Watts. (Source: WBRC) Students and supporters waiting for Watts. (Source: WBRC)
UAB President Dr. Ray Watts heading to a meeting with the football team. (Source: WBRC) UAB President Dr. Ray Watts heading to a meeting with the football team. (Source: WBRC)
Former UAB football player Justin Craft speaks to FOX6 News. (Source: WBRC) Former UAB football player Justin Craft speaks to FOX6 News. (Source: WBRC)
Supporters boo Watts as he leaves the field house. (Source: WBRC video) Supporters boo Watts as he leaves the field house. (Source: WBRC video)
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    UAB supporters hold rally for football program

    UAB supporters hold rally for football program

    Sunday, November 30 2014 10:25 PM EST2014-12-01 03:25:10 GMT
    Sunday, November 30 2014 11:38 PM EST2014-12-01 04:38:22 GMT
    The UAB campus was loud and proud Sunday night.Students organized a rally on social media and within four hours, football fans were heading to the green.More >>
    The UAB campus was loud and proud Sunday night.Students organized a rally on social media and within four hours, football fans were heading to the green.More >>
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The University of Alabama confirms what our sources have told us earlier today: this season will be the last for Blazers football.

In a press release, the university also said they would be eliminating the rifle and bowling programs.

President Dr. Ray Watts met with the football team at 2 p.m. to give the players and staff the news. The team left the meeting, visibly upset. Supporters stood outside the building cheering them while band members played the school song.

Head football coach Bill Clark said he and the team appreciated the support from the bottom of their hearts. He said losing the program is "like a death."

"[I'm] just so proud of them and what a great year they've had. It's more than the scores. It's all the life lessons and we're truly a family and that's not going to change," Clark said.

Clark wouldn't comment on his future but instead tried to keep to focus on his staff and players.

"My biggest worry is these guys and that they all are OK. They're all hurting right now," Clark said.  "It's hard not to be upset. I've got coaches and families and players and…we're hurt. Very hurt."

We asked Clark if he had any message for the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees and the UAB administration.

"I think our message to everyone is how we played," Clark said.

As Watts left the field house, dozens of supports booed and screamed at him. Several people could be heard yelling "Coward!" and expletives at Watts.

Watts and UAB VP of Finance G. Allen Bolton, Jr. spoke at 3:30 p.m. at the UAB Administration Building, where hundreds of students protested outside for the second day in a row.

They reiterated what was shared in a press release about the athletic strategic plan.

The decision came after the university conducted a "campus-wide strategic planning process" to identify which areas should take priority in securing the university's future growth.

Officials said the cost of maintaining the football team is the main factor in eliminating it.

“While this will be a challenging transition for the UAB family, the financial picture made our decision very clear,” UAB President Dr. Ray Watts said in the press release. “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.”

Watts said that UAB will not reduce its athletic budget and instead redirect the funds from the three programs to build "UAB's priority sports" into championship programs. The press release doesn't name those programs.

UAB said they will honor student athletes' scholarships and their coaches contracts.

Allen addressed the question of whether private donations could have kept the football program alive. He said that was unlikely since last year's private donations totaled $2 million dollars. He said that was a typical annual total.

Lastly, UAB said current Athletic Director Brian Mackin doesn't want to continue as AD after the three programs end. He will be reassigned to the new role of Special Assistant to the President for Athletics to help coaches and student athletes.

Watts also added that the university hopes to maintain its Conference USA status for their remaining sports. 

Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky said in a statement that he is "disappointed" by the decision. He also points out that the conference's current bylaws require that all members sponsor football. Below is his full statement:

“We are aware of the study but disappointed with the decision to discontinue the sport of football at UAB, particularly because of its effect on the lives of the student-athletes and coaches that have worked so hard to restore the quality of the program. We don't fully understand the decision, nor agree with it, but do respect it and the authority of the UAB Administration to make it.

As a conference, we will move forward in our pursuit of excellence in athletics and academics, with the primary goal of providing a positive educational experience for all of our 5,000 student-athletes. Our universities have invested in athletics, and in facilities to support athletics, and are focused on their student-athletes and the contribution college athletics makes on their campuses and in their communities.

UAB has been a contributing member to the Conference since its inception and has expressed a strong interest in remaining a member, a topic that the Conference's Board of Directors will take up in the months ahead. The Conference's current bylaws require all members to sponsor football.”

Head coach Bill Clark released this written statement:

"This is one of the most difficult days that I have had to endure in my personal as well as my coaching career.

I am absolutely heartbroken for my players and my assistant coaches. These coaches and players have done a tremendous job and have worked extremely hard for this university, to achieve six wins and be bowl eligible.

I want to pay a special tribute to our many loyal fans for all the support hey have given us this season and especially, during these last few challenging weeks.

Sometimes we as people do not understand why certain things happen; however my faith tells me that God has a plan for the lives of our players, my coaching staff, and for me and my family.

I am grateful for the opportunity I have had here at UAB and making so many new relationships during my time here.

There is no doubt in my mind that we were in the process of building something special at UAB. This goes further than our football program, the athletics department, or the university as a whole. This team is Birmingham - we represent Birmingham and this community.

It is unfortunate that it has come to this. But again, it is a decision that has been reached and I must respect it and will move forward.

Thank you Birmingham and the UAB Community for everything you have done for our players, this coaching staff and me personally."

Birmingham Mayor William Bell said that he is "deeply disappointed" by Tuesday's news. 

"Some of the concerns that they have could have been addressed years ago. But we're at a point in time where they've made that decision. It sets the city back in terms of creating its image as a sports center, especially with one of the major tenants of Legion Field not being able to play there," Bell told media.

Rep. Jack Williams, who has supported the program and event proposed a bill to expand the trustees' board, posted this statement on his Facebook page: 

"This is a tragic day in UAB history. The negative repercussions of this day will be felt on the UAB campus and in the Birmingham community for generations to come.

Today's announcement to kill UAB football also marks the death of the visionary leadership of great men such as Dick Hill, Jerry Young and Scotty McCallum. Gone is the charismatic can-do leadership of Gene Bartow, the father of UAB athletics. The man who understood the future of all UAB sports is tied to the success of its football program.

The battles fought by Dr. Ann Reynolds and Dr. Carol Garrison make today's announcement no surprise. These two iron-willed women never succumbed to the unrelenting pressure the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees brought down on them to destroy UAB athletics. Those battles and the pressure sustained over the years makes our current lack of leadership regrettable, but understandable.

I am filled with both surprise and gratitude at how the Birmingham community, too long defined by our inability to work together, joined together to try and save the football program. We crossed political, municipal, social, and ethnic lines fighting together for something that is good for our entire community. Unfortunately, the leadership at UAB chose to turn its back and shrink back in the face of adversity. I am hopeful that one day, under the right leadership, these breaches of trust and confidence can be healed.

Today is a sad day - but for those of us who love UAB - we cannot quit. We must be even more vigilant because today's surrender has signaled to the Board that they can strip away from this campus whatever they desire. Others must stand and fight before this great university is reduced to only a medical school and an extension center. Our community must not lose sight of UAB's potential greatness - even if those at its helm seem to lose heart."

Statement from Karen Brooks, president pro tem of the Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama System:

"I fully support President Watts on an incredibly difficult decision that has come out of a long and painstaking process. For UAB to sharpen its competitive edge in teaching, research and service, Dr. Watts and his team are setting out strategic priorities that will produce the very best returns for UAB's students, faculty, staff and the citizens of Alabama. As is the case throughout The University of Alabama System, decisions like these are a reality of the financial challenges we must continue to address on a daily basis. I am confident that UAB will reach its goal of achieving sustainable excellence as the strategic plan moves forward, and I will do everything in my power to assist in that effort."

Statement from Dr. Robert Witt, Chancellor of The University of Alabama System:

"I strongly support President Watts' decision to drop football, bowling and rifle from UAB's intercollegiate athletics program. His decision is a strategic and financial necessity. UAB must focus its financial investments on the University's key strategic priorities."

Governor Robert Bentley released this statement:

“This season of UAB football has been one of the best for Blazer football, and I congratulate Coach Clarke and his team of coaches, staff and, most importantly, players who have dedicated themselves to UAB. As a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Medicine, I am proud of the impact UAB has on the City of Birmingham and the State of Alabama. The decision to end the football program at UAB is President Watts' decision, and I respect his authority as UAB President. He has a strong vision for the future of UAB, and I look forward to the great things that await the University in research, academics and athletics.”

Visit http://www.uab.edu/athleticsplan/ for Watts' reaction to the announcement. 

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