On Dec. 4, 2014, University of Alabama at Birmingham announced it would be eliminating its football program.
On June 1, 2015, UAB President Ray L. Watts reversed the earlier statement and said that football, along with rifle and bowling, would return.
On Tuesday, the team announced that 2017 would be when the team would return.
In the June statement, Watts said, “I am forwarding documents to Conference-USA and the NCAA notifying them that UAB plans to remain an FBS program and a full member of C-USA.”
The NCAA confirmed Tuesday that UAB’s football program will remain both when it resumes in 2017. The Blazers also will be eligible for the conference championship and a postseason bowl.
“I am so excited that UAB Football will return to FBS competition in 2017,” head coach Bill Clark said in a news release. “Like our fans, I wanted to light the scoreboard much sooner, but doing it right is more important than doing it fast, and this was our best option. We want a program that is here to stay. We have to start by building a new, stronger foundation. We need to take our time to do it right, then we can compete for conference and bowl championships.”
But current players are operating in a significantly shorter four-year window. Caught between the December and June statements were student-athletes determining how to best remedy a difficult situation. Many players transferred to other schools, including redshirt sophomore linebacker TJ McCollum, a Birmingham native, and senior defensive tackle Jontavious Morris. They left UAB to attend C-USA rival Western Kentucky.
The two UAB transfers will help WKU where it most needs it: on defense. Western Kentucky had a successful 2014 season, finishing 8-5 and winning their bowl game, but a porous defense yielded 519 points or roughly 40 points per game. Fortunately, their offense was slightly more prolific than their opponents. The combined score of their last two 2014 games was 116-114 in WKU’s favor and included a 67-66 win over Marshall on Nov. 28.
“TJ and Jontavious have both expressed interest to leave that part of their career behind them and focus just on WKU,” said Kyle Neaves of the Hilltoppers’ athletic department.
UAB rising senior Shaq Jones, who considered Western Kentucky, decided to stay at UAB. He said in a June interview with the Bowling Green Daily News’ Zach Greenwell, “I decided to wait it out and see how it goes. It came out in our favor.”
Greenwell told ASN that despite it being difficult for the two UAB transfers at first, “They tried to put it behind them and have become pretty ingrained at WKU. Morris was a breakout star of spring ball and should be a major contributor on the defensive line next year.”
The Blazers’ 2014 standout quarterback Cody Clements has found a home at South Alabama. After offseason surgery in the spring, Clements is expected to compete for a starting spot for the Sun Belt’s South Alabama. He will have the benefit of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Bryant Vincent, who also moved from UAB.
The groundwork for a rebuilt Blazers roster has begun to appear. Tyler Jones, a 6-5, 295-pound offensive lineman transfer from Memphis, recently signed a financial aid agreement with UAB, the program announced on July 20. Jones was redshirted his freshman year at Memphis.
“It’s obviously a big deal to get the first one (signee),” Clark said.
Clark, who led UAB to six wins and bowl eligibility in 2014, remains the integral constant on the Blazers’ sideline as they reassemble a C-USA contender.