Conference Options for UAB
When UAB announced on 12/1/14 that they were dropping football, the immediate concern by many fans was what Conference USA would do with them. When the conference consolidated following the 2000’s conference shift in college sports, non-football members St. Louis and Charlotte were jettisoned to the Atlantic 10 after DePaul and Marquette joined the then-Big East, as the conference made a move to require all-sports sponsorship for all members.
Fast forward to the close of 2014 and UAB is now without a football program.
It seems inevitable that Conference USA will seek a replacement, as with UAB leaving, the conference will be down to only 13 football members. For scheduling purposes, 14 schools would be ideal.
The body of UAB isn’t even warm yet and a number of schools are likely already batting their eyes towards Conference USA.
But before looking at what Conference USA might do, it’s equally important to examine what might happen to UAB.
If forced out of Conference USA, UAB will likely have a number of options for the basketball program and other sports.
The clear conference choice for UAB basketball is the Atlantic 10. The conference consistently sends multiple basketball programs to the NCAA tournament and has a solid television presence for a a conference outside of the ACC, SEC, Big 12, PAC-12 and Big Ten. Only the Big East has a much stronger television contract over other outside conferences such as the Mountain West and the Atlantic 10.
While the Atlantic 10 footprint appears less desirable for UAB (the majority of the members are in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states), the majority of the schools are in urban areas. This means that the current routine at UAB of flying it’s programs to opponents venues, as it does in Conference USA, would remain. Already at 14 members, would the A10 even consider UAB? Adding a new metro area with 1.1 million people would help the conference. The school would also expand the footprint further into the south. But adding UAB would likely require the A10 to add a 16th school, likely from the same region. After recently adding Davidson, there aren’t many overly attractive options in the region. The College of Charleston, a current CAA member, would be one of the only real option in the region.
After cutting the football program due to budget concerns, a more likely move would be to a conference that would require much less travel.
Nearby, there’s the Ohio Valley Conference. The OVC does not require football as it is an FCS football conference. The conference has had moderate basketball success and rests in the ideal footprint for UAB. Adding a school in Birmingham, AL would be a coup for the OVC as well. The conference already serves as home for an Alabama school in Jacksonville St. The footprint extends to border state Tennessee, where (5) members reside. Nearby Kentucky hosts another (3) schools. So in means of cost analysis, when factoring travel for all UAB sports programs, the OVC is solid option.
Following that same notion, there is the Southern Conference.
Like the OVC, the Southern Conference already serves as a home to an Alabama school with Samford. Most of the conference members are in the Carolinas, giving UAB the potential for moderate recruiting benefits in those areas. As an FCS football conference with non-football members, UAB would not feel any pressure to bring football back. The quality of the lone revenue sport for UAB, basketball, is not as strong as the Atlantic 10 or OVC.
After the OVC and the Southern Conference, the options become either less likely or less desirable.
The CAA becomes the next place for UAB to look. If they are unable to get into the Atlantic 10 and don’t want to be in the nearby OVC, they will likely look at the CAA. Charleston, SC is the nearest member to UAB as the conference membership runs up the coast with schools in North Carolina, Virginia, and further north into the mid-Atlantic and northeast. The CAA once had strong basketball performance as a conference, but those members have since left for other conferences such as Conference USA and the Atlantic 10.
If all else fails, UAB will then need to turn to the Southland or Atlantic Sun. The Southland currently has 13 members and adding UAB would only be a bonus for the conference. There is an argument to be made that the Southland could be the best conference home for UAB when factoring in costs. It’s doubtful that UAB would still be without a conference before needing to consider the Atlantic Sun. If UAB seeks membership in the Atlantic Sun, it is a virtual lock that they would extend the invitation.
As things begin to settle down at UAB, they will begin approaching and listening to new conferences regarding their future. And as that process begins, so will the future of the Conference USA membership.