By Joe Medley
A state crazy about college football will soon have one less college football team..
UAB announced Tuesday it will drop its 25-year-old football program, which just completed its best season in 10 years under former Jacksonville State University head coach and Piedmont native Bill Clark. The decision becomes effective at the end of the current school year.
Clark had scheduled a 4 p.m. news conference but cancelled, releasing a statement instead. He said he was "heartbroken" and called Tuesday "one of the most difficult days I have had to endure in my personal as well as coaching career.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we were in the process of building something special at UAB," he said. "This goes further than our football team, the athletics program, or the university as a whole. This team is Birmingham -- we represent Birmingham and this community."
UAB becomes the first major college football program to shut down since Pacific in 1995.
UAB's football program began as a club team in 1989 and started playing on the NCAA Division III level in 1991. The Blazers joined college football's top division, now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision, in 1996.
The Blazers went 6-6 this season and achieved the number of victories needed for bowl eligibility for the first time in 10 years.
University of Alabama School System trustees -- who govern campuses in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville -- opted to discontinue the program. UAB president Ray Watts said the decision followed a year-long, comprehensive study on school departments conducted by an outside firm, Carr & Associates.
"The fiscal realities we face -- both from an operating and a capital investment standpoint -- are starker than ever and demand that we take decisive action for the greater good of the athletic department and UAB," Watts said in a statement released by the university. "As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the athletic department, football is simply not sustainable."
According to UAB's release, the school subsidizes $20 million of the athletic department's operating budget of $30 million annually. The release said both those numbers rank fifth in Conference USA.
The university said the difference over the next five years would be an extra $49 million with football, including a projected $22 million for needed facilities and upgrades.
UAB's decision to drop the football program leaves Clark and several assistants, including seven who followed him from JSU, looking for jobs. Clark was completing the first year of his three-year contract.
The roster includes two sophomores with area ties, Clay Central High's Jamari Staples and Anniston High's Rodarius Houston. Both players are wide receivers.
(c)2014 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.)