Students rally to save UAB football

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Scores of students, alumni and athletes marched to the administration building at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and rallied for hours Monday in response to reports that officials will shut down the football program.

Chanting "We want football" and "We are UAB, We are Birmingham," demonstrators demanded that UAB president Ray Watts come outside to discuss the future of the program, which earned a possible bowl appearance with a win on Saturday.

Watts never showed before the protest concluded, and school officials didn't respond to a request for comment.

Protesters said they would return Tuesday.

"I'm going to fight for this school and I could care less what people think. I believe in my heart that it's right," said Zac Woodfin, who played at UAB and is now an assistant coach.

Much of the demonstrators' anger was directed toward University of Alabama System trustees, who control campuses in Birmingham, Huntsville and Tuscaloosa. Trustees previously blocked UAB's efforts to construct a stadium and hire Jimbo Fisher, now the coach at Florida State.

Officials have said there are evaluating the viability of UAB football, and coach Bill Clark told ESPN.com on Sunday that he expects the school to end a program that has struggled financially.

Clark later tweeted about his comments:

In its first season under Clark, UAB (6-6) is bowl eligible for the first time since 2004.

In Tuscaloosa, Alabama coach Nick Saban said the uncertainty surrounding UAB's program "is kind of news to me." They're part of the same university system.

"My thoughts are always with the players and the people in our profession that are affected by losing their jobs, whether it's getting fired or someone discontinuing their program," Saban said. "I hate to see that for anyone in our profession. I certainly hate to see players have to go through the things they have to go through when they have to change programs or don't have the opportunity to play were they thought they were going to play.

"Saying all that, I understand the other side of it, too. There's a business aspect to all this that has to make sense to people relative to justifying athletic programs in general. And that's above my pay grade, and I'm not involved at all in any opinion in what should and shouldn't be done."

Playing in the shadows of Alabama and Auburn and lacking an on-campus stadium, UAB has struggled to develop a fan base and consistent attendance in the nearly two decades since it joined the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Average attendance doubled this year under Clark to more than 20,000 per game, but reports circulated that administrators might kill the program even as the Blazers compiled their best record in a decade.

Eliminating football would jeopardize UAB's membership in Conference USA and associated programs including the school's marching band. Members of the band and cheerleaders joined in the protest at the administrative offices.

The last FBS school to eliminate football was Pacific in 1995.