BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — UAB’s decision to revive the football program is just the beginning of a formidable task.
University President Ray Watts announced his intentions Monday to bring back football, a day short of six months after dropping the programs. Now, coach Bill Clark must find enough players to field a team as early as 2016.
Athletic director Mark Ingram says it is “a launching point,” but stopped short of promising a return after only a one-season hiatus.
“Our goal is to play as soon as possible, which may be 2016,” Ingram said.
In cutting the sports in December — including bowling and rifle, which are also being brought back — Watts cited a report saying it would cost $49 million over five years to field a competitive football program. He’s bringing football back only after receiving pledges that would make up the projected $17.2 million deficit over the next five years if the sport was restored, including commitments from student leaders to raise fees and from the city and the national alumni group.
“The biggest single difference is that we now have tangible commitment for additional support that we never had before,” Watts said.
Now, the trick is sustaining that level of interest and generosity over the long haul.
Some things to know about UAB football and what’s next:
Q. What conference will UAB play in?
A. Watts made it clear UAB intends to remain in Conference USA, something that almost certainly wouldn’t have happened without football. C-USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky applauded UAB’s decision. “It didn’t really come as a great surprise, but we’re very pleased with the decision to bring back football,” Banowsky told The AP. “As a conference, we’re committed to football so we welcome the good news that UAB football has been given another chance.”
Q. Is there a coaching staff in place?
A. Yes, coach Bill Clark remained under contract when the football program was dropped. Now Clark and his staff must try to reclaim the momentum they built with his 6-6 debut season that was the Blazers’ best in a decade. Clark issued a statement saying it was a relief that UAB football was being resurrected. “This is a critical first step toward UAB football’s new path,” Clark said. “It takes tremendous commitment and support to run a successful football program. We have a lot of work to do but we start anew today!”
Q. Does UAB have any players?
A. No, not officially. So that’s will make recruiting even more of a priority. UAB athletic director Mark Ingram Ingram hopes the fans’ enthusiasm rubs off. “Our coaches and all our staff will clearly see that this renewed commitment by our community is different and greater than we’ve ever had,” Ingram said. “I hope that they’ll feel that energy and I hope that they’ll see that our intention is to put them in position to win championships. “
Q. Will any of the former UAB players return to the program?
A. It’s unclear if any 2014 players would be interested in returning, but Wes Drewery won’t be among them — and said he’s not alone. Drewery redshirted as a freshman this past season at UAB and transferred to Murray State after the program was shut down. He said teammates have had mixed opinions on possibly returning.”They’re talking about everybody should go back. There’s a lot of teammates I know that won’t go back,” Drewery said. Personally, he said, “my best bet is to stay at Murray State.”
Q. Is money no longer any issue for UAB?
A. It is. The university is still raising the estimated $12.5 million to $14.5 million for a turf practice field and a new field house through contributions. Watts said pledges so far total about 10 percent of the cost. They’ve dropped an indoor practice facility that was included in the initial report completed in 2014.”That indoor practice facility would be great but it’s not a necessity,” Watts said. “That operations facility and the appropriate kind of practice field is a necessity.”
Q. Will UAB get the new stadium to replace aging Legion Field that fans have long clamored to have?
A. Watts said that’s up to the city and community to fund. “We will be happy to play in any new, modern facility that the city might choose to build,” he said. “We leave the specific type of facility and the exact location up to the mayor and city leaders and community leaders.”
AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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