The University of Alabama-Birmingham announced Monday evening that it was reinstating a football program it disbanded just six months ago.
University president Dr. Ray Watts said he has been working with the NCAA and Conference USA to keep the program's conference and FBS standing. Women's rifle and bowling also will be reinstated.
"Given the broad base of support never before seen, as of today, we are taking steps to reinstate the football, rifle and bowling programs," Watts said. "I am forwarding documents to Conference USA and the NCAA notifying them that UAB plans to remain an FBS program and a full member of C-USA."
Watts said through private fundraising and city contributions, $17.2 million in outside funds has been raised that will be used in addition to the $20 million the university has set aside for athletics. The goal is to ultimately make UAB a profitable model within the next five years. Watts said the university would not pledge any more money toward the program than what has already been allotted.
"To do otherwise would require us to take additional funds from our academic and health care missions, which we will not do," Watts said.
That being said, Watts said the university does not have the funds upgrade UAB's facilities or subsidize a new stadium. Those funds will have to come through donations and the aid of City of Birmingham.
Watts said no deadlines have been set as to when private money needs to start rolling in to get the program up and functioning again, but said those dates would be ironed out soon.
While today might have been a banner day for those who pushed vehemently to get UAB football back, the timeline as to when UAB will actually take the field is unclear. Watts did say Bill Clark would return as head coach and athletic director Mark Ingram noted the school wanted to get a team on the field "to play as soon as possible, which may be 2016.”
There will be several NCAA hoops to jump through, including how many players the Blazers will be able to sign to try and make a 2016 debut. Moreover, Clark's ability to recruit players to a school that was pretty eager to pull the rug out from under the football program will be a challenge as well.
In December, Watts announced that it was no longer financially feasible for the university to support football — an independent study said it would cost UAB an additional $49 million over the next five years to field a football program — and UAB became the first FBS program to drop football in nearly two decades.
The move was met with protests and since that time, former UAB players, boosters and other supporters have been scrambling to raise enough funds to reinstate the program.
In January, the school created of task force that hired College Sports Solutions, an independent firm, to study the decision. The school also created a fundraising subcommittee led by Justin Craft, a former UAB player and the head of the UAB Football Foundation, who said the group has raised more than $15 million through private donations.
The new study said the school would face an annual deficit of $3.2 million if it reinstated football as well as women's rifle and women's bowling, two other sports cut in December.
"We are very pleased with the decision to bring back the football program at UAB," Conference USA said in a statement. "As a conference we are committed to football, and we welcome the good news that the UAB football program has been given another chance. From all indications, this program will now be able to count on a very strong foundation of community support upon which it will begin the rebuilding that will position it well for success into the future."
And don’t forget to keep up with all of Graham’s thoughts, witty comments and college football discussions on Facebook