The days look numbered for UAB football. The administration will likely announce that the Blazers will no longer play on the gridiron after 2016.
The change will likely mean that UAB's days in Conference USA are also numbered. It is unlikely that the conference will want to support a school who does not field a team in its biggest sport. That means another conference realignment, something that seemed to have settled at least for the most part.
But where will UAB land if it loses that home?
It is unlikely that they can catch one with another league in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division 1-A for all the old-schoolers out there). It would be a lot to take on a school that doesn't help support the money maker that is football, especially since UAB has made the NCAA Tournament in basketball only four times since 2002, and the most recent was in 2011. That is not a history that any larger conference will take on now without the money that football would provide.
With the loss of football, we are probably also looking at a downgrade in the quality of the basketball program. Look at the schools that have football against those that do not offer football, and you can see how it changes the ability of that school to field top basketball programs. That isn't to say that it can't be done. It is just harder, especially when you are dealing with a program that is coming out of the top level of football.
Here are five possible conferences that would consider adding the Blazers:
- Ohio Valley: The OVC is maybe the most in line with UAB in both location and sport offerings. The league doesn't require football, and would probably like the chance to pick up a school with a more high profile basketball team (even if the success hasn't been there lately). Plus Birmingham would be a nice addition to a league. But there are issues with the addition. It would mean the league membership would swell to 13, making scheduling a nightmare for both the conference season and the conference tournament. They league would be unbalanced, although it isn't like other conferences haven't solved that problem. Plus UAB would still have to find a home for its men's soccer team. Probability: 40 percent.
- Southern Conference: The original basketball tournament in the country could do worse than grabbing another truly southern team. The constant churning in the league has lost the conference its two premier programs in Davidson and College of Charleston, along with some others that were on the rise (and hence rose out of the ranks). Mercer and Wofford are now the big guns that everyone is chasing. Adding a team like UAB would be a big steal for the league. The Southern also offers enough sports to keep UAB's other teams satisfied. The biggest hurdles would be that again, this forces the league into an odd number of teams at 11. However, it could easily set up a 20-game conference round robin and would set up a crosstown rivalry with Samford. Probability: 30 percent.
- Southland Conference: This would seem to be a long way to fall, but the basketball program would almost feel right in line with the other schools in the league. Plus this gets the league to 14 teams in basketball, which while unwieldy, is at least an even number. There are hurdles though. Travel would be an issue as the majority of the teams in the conference lie in Texas and Louisiana. With no teams in Mississippi, that means that every game is at least two states away from the Blazers, and they are not going to the biggest towns out there. UAB would also still need to find a home for men's soccer (or ditch the program if the travel is really going to be an issue). It seems that this choice comes with a lot more issues than it is worth. Probability: 15 percent.
- Atlantic Sun: OK, this is a really big stretch, but the geography at least matches up. Joining a league this low in the pecking order is really going to be difficult for UAB, especially when you factor in sports outside of basketball. Yet there is a big difference going from playing against Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech, to playing against Stetson and the University of North Florida on a consistent basis. But desperate times call for desperate measures. You also have to think that the ASun is also desperate due to the fact if they lost one more member then they wouldn't be eligible for an NCAA auto-bid. Probability: 10 percent, if the administration is cheap enough.
- CAA: This one is a stretch, but the CAA seems to be clamoring for any new school that can possibly give it a little more cache. Going to Alabama though may be a stretch, especially since it means that UAB would be headed to Boston and New York to play. The closest school would be Charleston, and while that is not that bad, it doesn't make up for the long hauls that would be necessary. Still, this offers a nice home for the Blazers should they ever get an administration that desires to bring football back. The conference has a long history of strong football. Another tough sell. Probability: 5 percent.
If all else fails and none of these conferences seems to fit, there is always one last choice: joining NJIT in the ranks of the independents. But ask Jim Engles before you make that choice. This is not an easy choice to make in you want sustainability in your program and any semblance of a normal schedule.
The other thing to keep an eye on is how this effects the rest of the college landscape. CUSA will most likely want to fill their fourteenth seat back up and could look to the FCS ranks to grab a school like Liberty or James Madison, or the conference could look to raid the Sun Belt again perhaps with a big media market school like Georgia State. The trickle effect goes on and on and on...