Birmingham, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - Just six months after shutting down its football program, the University of Alabama at Birmingham announced Monday that it was reversing course and bringing the team back in 2016.
At a press conference Monday, university president Ray Watts said that the school's football, rifle and bowling programs will return after the university could not find money in the budget to continue the sports.
Watts' decision faced hostile scrutiny from athletes, the community and alumni. According to his interview with the Associated Press, the city of Birmingham, private donors and increased student fees will erase an expected $17.2 million deficit over the next five years if football was reinstated. Watts said that new donors were providing unprecedented amounts of support.
External funding was key to Watts' decision. UAB plans to cap its subsidization of athletics at $14.49 million. To keep the team competitive, the Blazers needed to upgrade facilities. It is estimated that they needed $12.5 to $14.5 million for a turf practice field and new fieldhouse.
One facility that will not be changing is the off-campus stadium the Blazers use for home games -- Legion Field. It opened in 1927 and has served as UAB's venue of choice since 1991, but Watts said that a new, on-campus stadium is not in the works.
"We believe that a stadium is best addressed by the city and our communities here and by our community leaders," Watts said. "We will be happy to play in any new, modern facility that the city might choose to build. We leave the specific type of facility and the exact location up to the mayor and city leaders and community leaders."
Without football, the Blazers' other athletic teams were facing expulsion from Conference USA. The conference's bylaws state that its programs must have a football team. In a statement, the conference said, "As a conference we are committed to football, and we welcome the good news that the UAB football program has been given another chance."
With its sights set on 2016, UAB now has to figure out to restore the program with many players departing for other opportunities. In 2014, the Blazers were bowl eligible at 6-6 but did not receive a bid. In their only bowl bid ever, the Blazers lost to Hawaii in the 2004 Hawaii Bowl.
UAB was the first school to shutter a major football program since Pacific in 1995. Its all-time record is 86-135, and Bill Clark, who coached the team for the first time in 2014, is expected to return.