Alabama state representative Jack Williams is calling for the immediate resignation of UAB president Ray Watts, alleging that confidential correspondence obtained by his office indicates that school trustees, faculty, coaches and players were deliberately misled as plans were made to shut down the Blazers' football program in 2014.
"It clearly shows the decision had been made in spring or early summer to kill the program," Williams said when reached before a Monday morning news conference in Birmingham. "The president is lying to the board, faculty, students and the community at large ... I call for Dr. Watts to resign."
Watts later issued a statement taking issue with Williams' allegations about the timing of UAB's football elimination.
"Mr. Williams claims the football decision was made prior to the 2014 season," Watts' statement said. "This is categorically untrue."
"A comprehensive review of the Athletic Department was begun as a part of the overall campus wide strategic planning process I announced when I became president," the statement continued. "We conducted a specific review of the football program and the budget, based on known expenses. With information in hand, I began the decision-making process. I made that final decision in November and felt it was appropriate to wait until after the regular season to tell the team and the UAB family. At UAB, as with any major organization, it is common to prepare for potential scenarios from a communications standpoint, even prior to a final decision being made. The documents shared by Mr. Williams are consistent with such a process."
Williams has been a vocal critic of the decision to eliminate the program. He is also the publisher of BlazerSportsReport.com, a site on the Rivals.com network of college websites.
ESPN.com was sent copies of the memos but could not independently verify them.
"At UAB, as with any major organization, it is common to prepare for potential scenarios from a communications standpoint, even prior to a final decision being made. These documents are consistent with such a process," the school said in a statement Monday. "The decision was final in November after all information was garnered and analyzed."
Williams said documents show that school administration received detailed recommendations from its consulting and public relations firms in early September 2014, outlining the December dates best suited to soften the impact of an official announcement ending the UAB football program. He said that contradicts a Nov. 6 statement by Watts that said the athletic department review was ongoing and "an incomplete process."
Williams cited a Sept. 5 letter from Bill Carr of CarrSports Consulting, which had been hired by the university to assess the UAB athletic department, that warned if the school dropped football, "it is our professional opinion that an announcement at any point during the regular season would be extremely problematic for all parties." Instead, it said, "Carr Sports recommends that notification be delivered as soon as possible after conclusion of football's regular season."
At the time, the letter said CarrSports was "preparing a summary document" relative to UAB athletics. Its final report, which included financial projections based on UAB athletics with and without a football program, was dated Nov. 18, 2014.
Williams also cited a strategy memo from the New York-based strategic communications firm Sard Verbinnen & Co., also dated Sept. 5, that referred to UAB's "contemplated announcement" and said that after "additional input" from CarrSports that it also endorsed a postseason statement, preferably on Dec. 1 or 2.
AL.com, in a story posted Monday, cited a Sept. 3 draft document from CarrSports that was "virtually identical" to the Nov. 18 one Watts said he used to help him make the decision to eliminate football.
On Dec. 2, UAB, relying, it said, on the findings of the Carr report, announced it was discontinuing Blazers football because of "fiscal realities."
CarrSports had originally called for an early season or midseason announcement, but reversed itself in the memo, citing the possibility of a team boycott and the public fallout.
"An announcement that negatively impacts student athletes would also deeply concern other students, alumni and decision makers in the state legislature, creating an even greater public relations problem and negatively impacting the UAB family," the CarrSports letter said.
The SVC memo cited by Williams went on to outline a seven-point public relations plan, all based around an early December announcement. It included:
• The possibility of the football team having a winning record.
"A winning record would be tremendous, but irrelevant in context," it read. "Communicating that UAB enthusiastically supports a winning 2014-2015 season in order to position its student athletes and coaches in the best light for future opportunities will also be key to lessening any potential criticism."
• The benefits of another major college football program also shutting down.
"News coverage has already begun around potential changes to collegiate program ... which will likely take the heat off of UAB and serve as a good media distraction postseason."
The benefits of distancing the announcement date from a scheduled November 2014 board of trustees meetings.
• "By announcing postseason, UAB both minimizes the risk of meeting disruption and mitigates any inference that the decision was driven by the [University of Alabama System] Board of Trustees."
The SVC memo ends by saying it hopes "this is helpful perspective."
As it turned out, the Dec. 2 announcement did little to ease the backlash felt by Watts and the UAB administration. Video of Watts' sometimes contentious team meeting with Blazers players and coaches went viral. There were student protests, and at least one prominent UAB booster vowed to withhold future financial donations to the school.
Last week, UAB fans chanted "Fire Ray Watts" during and after Watts watched the Blazers defeat Iowa State in the NCAA tournament at Louisville.
Williams has been a vocal critic of Watts' decision to end the football program. Last Thursday he introduced three bills in the Alabama legislature related to the UAB situation, including one that would, for all intents and purposes, require the university to reinstate and maintain a football program.
Under first-year coach Bill Clark, UAB finished the 2014 season with a bowl-eligible record of 6-6. The remaining two years of his contract are being paid by UAB. Clark didn't return multiple messages from ESPN.com, but in late January, he told AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky that he saw "a glimmer of hope" that the football program might be reinstated.
In 2013, the UAB athletic department generated just over $10 million in revenue, about $300,000 more than in 2008-09. Yet expenses jumped significantly in the same time period -- by a little more than $5 million overall, or by 22.3 percent, according to figures from ESPN's "Outside The Lines."
In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, the UAB athletic department had a shortfall of $17.5 million. Yet 25 other public Division I/FBS schools had a larger shortfall, including Rutgers, which was $47 million in the red.
To cover expenses in 2013, UAB relied on $18.1 million in revenue subsidies, mostly from student fees and the university itself, up from $13.1 million in 2008-09.