Monday March 23rd, 2015

Documents show that UAB held discussions with a public relations firm about cutting its football, rifle and women's bowling programs before the 2014 season began, reports AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky.

UAB president Ray Watts announced on Dec. 2, 2014, that the university was terminating the programs for financial reasons. The move was the first by a school to cut its football program in nearly two decades.

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AL.com obtained documents exchanged between UAB and public relations firm Sard Verbinnen & Co., that indicate the decision to cancel the three programs was made before the football season began, and that plans were in motion at some point for an announcement in September.

One "confidential draft" of a "Rollout Schedule Summary" and another of a "Full Rollout Schedule," both under Sard Verbinnen letterhead, include a detailed to-do list leading up to "Announcement Day - Wednesday September 17, 2014."

One of the items listed for that day: "B. Clark and/or B. Mackin to notify assistant football coaches and coaches of other cut teams, followed by football players and players of other cut teams."

Bill Clark was the UAB football coach. Brian Mackin was the UAB athletics director. A Sept. 17 announcement would've occurred during an open week after the Blazers started 2-1.

These documents appear to contradict the narrative Watts has maintained that the decision to cancel the football program and the other two programs was not finalized until November.

Another document obtained by AL.com shows "consideration of another September date" to announce the elimination of the programs.

Other documents also reveal how UAB's decision timeline was adjusted by Sard Verbinnen over concerns of the backlash to an in-season announcement.

Why did UAB not announce the elimination of football, rifle and women's bowling in September? An "Amended Confidential Memorandum" from Sard Verbinnen to UAB director of media relations Jim Bakken dated Sept. 5, 2014 recommends "a post-season announcement on Monday Dec. 1, 2014 or Tuesday Dec. 2, 2014, is the most suitable option to communicate the results of the athletic department's strategic review."

That memo offers "our basis for opposing a mid-season announcement." It suggests the potential for "a critical mass of immediate transfer requests ... where students refuse to finish out the season" or "a full team boycott."

"If not effectively managed," the memo says, "it is conceivable that UAB would not be able to field a competitive team - or any team."

The memo also suggests the possibility that UAB football players "may react very badly if an announcement is made during the season."

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UAB, which finished its final season 6-6 (4-4 C-USA), released a statement on Monday responding to AL.com's story:

At UAB, as with any major organization, it is common to prepare for potential scenarios from a communications standpoint, even prior to a final decision being made. These documents are consistent with such a process. The decision was final in November after all information was garnered and analyzed.

Mike Fiammetta

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