UAB shutting down football program

UAB is shutting down its football program.

The university announced the decision Tuesday, minutes after president Ray Watts met with Blazers players and coaches, while several hundred UAB students and fans gathered outside for the third straight day in efforts to support the program. UAB made the decision after a campus-wide study conducted by a consulting firm over the past year.

"The fiscal realities we face -- both from an operating and a capital investment standpoint -- are starker than ever and demand that we take decisive action for the greater good of the athletic department and UAB," Watts said in a statement released by the university. "As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the athletic department, football is simply not sustainable."

UAB said in a release that it subsidizes $20 million of the athletic department's operating budget of some $30 million annually, and said both those numbers rank fifth in Conference USA. The university said the difference over the next five years would be an extra $49 million with football, including a projected $22 million needed for football facilities and upgrades.

UAB is the first major college football program since Pacific in 1995 to shut down.

Players cried and hugged after leaving the meeting. An emotional coach Bill Clark, who just completed his first season with a 6-6 record, briefly addressed supporters, saying players, families and coaches were all hurting. UAB is eligible for only its second bowl appearance and first since 2004.

Senior tight end Tristan Henderson, who talked about "what am I going to tell my 3-year-old," was among several players seen on video passionately speaking out against the shutdown to Watts.

Players met later Tuesday and agreed they would like to play in a bowl game if the team is selected for one, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad.

UAB tight end Brandon Prince, 20, transferred from Austin Peay to his hometown to help his ailing father. Now, he's not sure where he'll be able to do what he loves most: play football.

"It's like SMU," Prince said. "We got the death penalty without any NCAA violations."

UAB will have to pay $2.425 million for canceling future games with Tennessee, Kentucky, Troy, South Alabama and Georgia State, sources told ESPN's Brett McMurphy. UAB was scheduled to play Tennessee in Nashville in 2015 and at Kentucky in 2016.

UAB must pay Tennessee $925,000 and Kentucky $500,000 to get out of those games. The Blazers also must pay for canceling future home-and-home series in 2015 and 2016 with Troy ($400,000), South Alabama ($300,000) and Georgia State ($300,000), which will cost UAB a total of $1 million to end.

Eliminating football jeopardizes UAB's membership in Conference USA and associated programs including the school's marching band, though the school said it hopes to remain in the league and Division I. Members of the band and cheerleaders joined in protests on campus.

"It's like SMU. We got the death penalty without any NCAA violations." UAB tight end Brandon Prince

Conference USA's current bylaws require members to sponsor football. Commissioner Britton Banowsky said the league's board of directors will decide UAB's status.

"We are aware of the study but disappointed with the decision to discontinue the sport of football at UAB, particularly because of its effect on the lives of the student-athletes and coaches that have worked so hard to restore the quality of the program," Banowsky said. "We don't fully understand the decision, nor agree with it, but do respect it and the authority of the UAB administration to make it."

UAB is also cutting its bowling and rifle programs.

"We are not looking to reduce the athletic budget, but instead to reallocate our resources to remaining athletic programs," Watts said.

Athletic director Brian Mackin will now serve as special assistant to the president for athletics.

Zac Woodfin, the team's strength coach, also played at the school and said a decision to eliminate the program would hurt not only the 125 players and 50 coaches and support staff but also other sports that could see scholarship reductions, band members and fans.

"The trickle effect is going to be huge in a negative way," Woodfin said.

Playing in the shadows of Southeastern Conference powers 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.

UAB's only FBS postseason game was at the Hawaii Bowl in 2004. The past two coaches, Neil Callaway and Garrick McGee, went a combined 23-61.

Players at other programs turned to social media to support UAB.

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, who is from Birmingham, posted on Twitter: "Gotta keep UAB's football program for sure. Brings athletic competitiveness to the city that I call home."

Ex-Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said on Twitter: "Everybody in the state should stand up for UAB & help keep their football program alive. I wish everybody the best. Keep the Blazers alive."

Roddy White, the Atlanta Falcons star who is one of two active players in the NFL who attended UAB, lobbied last month to keep the team.

"UAB gave me my first opportunity and the first chance to play football," White said. "From there, I made it here. It's been 10 years in the league, so UAB was like the stepping stone for me getting to where I am today."

Information from ESPN.com Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure and The Associated Press is included in this report.