Are UAB's finances really any different than its conference peers?
In short, no.
I don't know everything about the situation, but here's what I do know...
On paper, UAB football's finances don't look that different from its conference peers for 2013-14:
Source: Department of Education
Keep in mind that those revenue numbers could include subsidies such as student fees, out-of-state tuition waivers and other assistance from the university.
UTEP, for example, probably wouldn't have cleared any money on football if it hadn't been for student fees and other institutional support. The Department of Education's database doesn't include this data, but reports schools file with the NCAA do itemize such subsidies. Unfortunately, reports filed with the NCAA aren't available for 2013-14, but UTEP's 2012-2013 report shows $5.8 million from student fees and institutional support as part of its more than $3 million in reported net revenue for football.
As you can see above, UAB's football program falls right around the conference average for both revenue and expenses. UAB football reported no revenue from student fees but did report $2.5 million in support from the university. UAB tells me that number doesn't include any non-monetary assistance, such as tuition waivers, but is a funding transfer directly from the university.
A wider view of UAB athletics
There isn't a single sport at UAB that generates net revenue once you subtract institutional support, and that's without taking student fees into account, which aren't designated for any one sport but totaled $5 million for the athletic department in 2012-13:
As you've probably learned by now, bowling and rifle also got the axe. In 2012-13, there were seven bowling student athletes and 11 rifle student athletes. Not a huge amount of financial relief for the athletic department, and it only minimally assists the athletic department in evening out its number of male participants versus female participants.
Normally when we talk about Title IX, it's women's sports that need to be added to an athletic department for compliance. However, UAB is going to need to add men's sports to stay in compliance after cutting the football program.
The strategic plan suggested adding men's cross country and track and field, although the athletic department has not yet announced any additions. I expect they will, but it's not something you can announce at the same time you reveal you're dropping three other sports.
The changing landscape of college football
The biggest issue for UAB, as identified in the strategic planning report prepared by CarrSports Consulting and used to assist in this decision, is that expenses for maintaining the football program are going to grow much more quickly than revenue. According to the report, it will cost UAB approximately $5,442 per athletic scholarship to fund the unlimited meals now allowed by the NCAA and the cost of attendance stipend expected to be implemented. That's nearly half a million dollars a year for the football team alone.
The report estimates total expenses for the athletic department would increase $25.3 million over the next five years in order to stay at a competitive level in C-USA. In addition, it suggests $22.2 million would be necessary for football facilities, including a practice field, indoor practice facility and football administration building.
Meanwhile, projections for increased revenue hover around $1 million annually. Without an expected increase in ticket sales or donations, institutional support or student fees would have to make up the difference.
This is only the beginning
Which begs the question: if UAB's finances look so similar to its peers, where are those institutions going to get the money to continue on at this level? The most likely options: increase student fees, increase institutional support or cut sports.
At most schools, you're not going to be able to increase benefits for student athletes without either taking it away from student athletes in other sports or making the rest of the student body fund it. For example, Clemson has already proposed adding student fees, and UNLV proposed an increase in student fees for athletics in October. Very few athletic departments have money left over at the end of the year they can simply reallocate to these new initiatives, and many sponsor more sports than the required NCAA minimum with any excess revenue generated by football or men's basketball.
And spare me the argument that coaches are overpaid and should be the ones taking the cuts -- their contracts are already in place, so the money isn't coming from them. And no team is going to step up and volunteer to be the first to cut money devoted to their next coach so they can reallocate it to student athlete benefits; it's competitive suicide, which would eventually impact the program's bottom line.
I don't anticipate more football programs being cut, but I do anticipate other teams will be on the chopping block and student fees will continue to rise in the new autonomy-driven college football world.