In the wake of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s decision to disband its football team, it seems unlikely that the Blazers will be selected to only their second bowl in team history. But bowl organizers would be missing out on a huge opportunity by ignoring the team.
UAB is ineligible for any of Conference USA’s five affiliated bowls because it finished sixth in the conference. And with only 76 bowl berths for 79 eligible teams – wins by Oklahoma State and Temple this weekend would push that to 81 – several teams won’t be rewarded, and UAB may be the first to go. According to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, “no one will touch [UAB] with what’s going on with the program since other options exist.”
Bowls thrive on ticket revenue, which accounted for 34 percent of gross receipts for the 2012-13 bowls. That means bowls are inclined to choose either regional teams or schools with fan bases that travel well. According to Wright Waters, executive director of the Football Bowls Association, “Bowls do better with teams that go regionally, teams that have compelling matchups, and teams that are hungry.”
So though Oklahoma State may finish no better than UAB’s 6-6 record, its popularity and strong fan base makes it more appealing to bowl organizers than a UAB team that is being disbanded and netted an FBS-low attendance rate of 10,000 fans per game in 2013. But try telling that to UAB’s players.
Oddly, UAB’s historically poor attendance should be a non-issue for bowls. The program’s dissolution has generated national attention with a number of non-UAB athletes showing their support. UAB fans would most likely turn out to a bowl game to wish their team farewell, and what seats they don’t buy would almost certainly be picked up by outside observers curious to see the program’s last game.
In 1995, the last time a school dissolved its football program, the University of Pacific finished its final season out of bowl contention at an abysmal 3-8, and the decision to drop football was made after the final game. Dissolving a bowl-eligible team is an unprecedented situation, meaning it’s unclear what kind of ticket revenue a program’s final game could generate. But we know UAB would be able to sell tickets: UAB’s attendance drastically improved this season, likely a result of the team’s early success and the attention that potential disbandment brought.
Bowls are business ventures, so organizers won’t be won over solely by emotional stories. However, it could be financially advantageous for a small, local bowl – the new 25,000-seat Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., for example – to bank on UAB’s national interest and give the team one last game.