Lions support thrives as UAB takes nosedive


UAB is the first major college football program since Pacific University to shut down since 1995.

UAB President Ray Watts cited the football program was no longer sustainable and it was no longer worth the investment. Watts said they will reinvest in athletic programs that are most likely to bring growth.

UNA Athletic Director Mark Linder said the investment into the football program is important to the university.

“Football can do a lot for the morale and institutional pride of the university,” he said. “It also brings people to school here who wouldn’t come if we didn’t have one. Studies show that between one and a half and two people follow a student-athlete to a campus from their old high school. And without football there is no marching band.

“A football program can bring in an extra 500 to 700 students and that’s significant when you talk about the economy of the campus.”

Football has great support from the UNA board of trustees, Linder said.

“UNA is a good culture for athletics as a whole,” he said. “We’re apart of the university but we certainly don’t drive the university. We are used as a marketing tool and a sense of pride so we make sure we fit in the plan of the institution.”

Linder also says the community benefits from the UNA football program.

“The economic impact for one of our games is about $1.5 million on this community,” he said. “It gears us to the community and helps out local business.”

Linder said the football program is used as a marketing tool for the university.

“We get a lot of coverage in our local media, regional media and even national media about our football program,” he said.

Football coach Bobby Wallace echoes Linder’s comments and says football brings advertisement and exposure to the university.

“I think the political side of UAB and (The University of) Alabama being the same board has a lot more to do with it than whether football is a good investment or not,” Wallace said. “I disagree with the decision but at the same time I understand they are unique in situation because they are looked at as a medical research university.”

Wallace said its obvious by how many schools play football that a majority of people believe it is a good investment.

“It’s not just about the football players and how much their scholarships cost,” he said. “I think it benefits the university as a whole.”

Wallace said the community cares about the program and its success.

“We have 10,000 people at our games for a reason. People care,” he said. “We have a great following and that’s what makes us a D-II power.”

The winning tradition of the football team helps with the support, Wallace said.

“The community pride goes back to the ’80s when coach Wayne Grubb was here,” he said. “We’re the winningest program in the state of Alabama since 1990. We’ve won more Gulf South Conference championships than anybody in the conference and as many national championships than anybody in the conference. Fans simply want to see success.”

The support of the program is evident through the university and fans, Linder said.

“Our attendance numbers are really strong,” he said. “If you look around you can see our facilities have improved and that comes from the leadership of Dr. Cale and Dr. Thornell, our board of trustees and our coaches.”

Junior receiver Lee Mayhall said it is encouraging as a player to see the support for the football team.

“Our crowd is always the biggest compared to other teams,” he said. “The student body really loves the football team and we appreciate it.”

Mayhall points to football as a learning tool for players.

“It can teach you so many lessons in life,” he said. “Such as discipline and being responsible. You don’t have time to be lazy so you have to learn how to manage your time well.”

UAB honored the scholarships of the football players but many decided to transfer to other schools to keep playing football.

Wallace said the team did not receive any transfers from UAB and recruiting will be done as usual.

“I couldn’t bring in any in the spring and most of them wanted to go through spring practice,” he said. “We did bring in three junior college kids and that was the most I could bring in.”

Linder said the transition to D-I situation has not changed because of the UAB announcement.

“We’re looking at Football Championship Subdivision not Football Bowl Subdivision like UAB was,” he said.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte begins playing football in Confernce-USA, the same conference as UAB, in 2015.

Linder said the future of Lion football is in good shape and UNA fans do not have to worry about the future of the program.

“The overall support of the football program has been great,” Linder said.