At first, the University of Alabama-Birmingham's decision to terminate its football team was supposedly about costs. The sport was simply too expensive, claimed UAB president Ray Watts, who pointed to a report from the consulting firm CarrSports that predicted the school would lose millions of dollars annually if it kept football.
Last month, I examined the CarrSports report and discovered a series of dubious assumptions that made UAB football look like it was losing millions, even though the actual numbers seemed to indicate that the sport was, at worst, a break-even proposition for the school. In response to challenges raised by me and others, UAB administrators changed their tune. Confronted by reporters, they offered a new story, claiming that cutting football was less about saving money than repurposing funds for better uses.
"Keep in mind, this decision wasn't about finding cost savings or cutting costs to break even," UAB vice president for financial affairs and administrator Allen Bolton told Jon Solomon of CBS Sports. "This is about investing and reinvesting in sustained excellence, and cultivating programs where we can win."
This feels closer to the truth, but not all the way there. For one, if football isn't actually losing money, then neither cutting nor keeping it will affect UAB's ability to invest in other sports, anymore than not using a friend's Netflix login will affect your ability to buy a new PlayStation.
More importantly, UAB appears to be purposefully downplaying—or perhaps fudging—the possibility that football makes money, funds that could theoretically be used to cultivate said other sports. Case in point? Athletic department donations.
In December, Solomon unearthed the full version of the CarrSports report and revealed a whopper: the report assumed that UAB men's basketball generated 70 percent of all athletic department donations, and football only 20 percent, with the remaining 10 percent coming from other sports. Big, if true, as the meme goes, because that would explain why UAB thinks cutting football won't have much impact on the school's overall donation revenue.
Thing is, the report's 70-20-10 split is decidedly bogus. But don't take my word for it. Ask UAB! In 2012-13, the school's athletic department reported the following contribution numbers to the NCAA (and, in more aggregate form, to the federal government for Title IX purposes):CONTRIBUTIONS Men Women No Gender TOTAL Baseball 43,413 Basketball 449,473 76,091 Bowling
928 Football 1,136,522 Golf 73,408 1,158 Rifle 576 Sand Volleyball 6,983 Soccer 74,414 40,512 Softball 51,727 Tennis 9,079 12,147 Track & Field 26,487 Volleyball 20,085 Others Subtotal 1,786,309 236,694
No Specific team 433,759 Total 1,786,309 236,694 433,759 2,456,762
Take out your calculator. Divide the football number ($1.14 million) by the total ($2.46 million). You'll quickly see that football is responsible for about 46 percent of UAB's athletic department donations, which is more than double the 20 percent CarrSports assumes. Moreover, men's basketball accounts for just 18 percent of total donations, which even this guy can tell you is significantly less than 70 percent.
So, what gives? Solomon asked UAB's Bolton the same question:
… Bolton said in an interview on Dec. 29 that Carr's study and UAB's NCAA reports are an "apples and oranges" comparison and count donation allocations differently. UAB's NCAA reports allocate gift money based on the scholarship expenses for each sport, meaning more donations go toward football than basketball because of more football scholarships, Bolton said.
Because many gifts aren't earmarked directly to a sport, Bolton said, UAB's NCAA-reported donations by sport are based on scholarship costs …
This sounds almost plausible. However, we live in a world where basic algebra exists. If Bolton is telling the truth and UAB's reports to the NCAA and federal government are based on assigning pieces of the total athletic department donation pie in proportion to the price of scholarships per team, then the reported donation numbers should line up with the school's actual squad-by-squad scholarship expenses.
In reality, they don't. In fact, they're not even close. UAB's 2012-13 athletic scholarship data shows many sports with comparable or higher scholarship funding than basketball, even though those same sports are getting far less in donations. You'd be hard pressed to find two datasets that are less proportional. Take a look:SCHOLARSHIPS Men Women No Gender TOTAL Baseball 313,645 Basketball 361,591 473,627 Bowling
71,037 Football 2,147,036 Golf 95,218 140,209 Rifle 68,750 Sand Volleyball 23,475 Soccer 293,790 361,456 Softball 298,340 Tennis 131,993 290,233 Track & Field 483,618 Volleyball 337,843 Others Subtotal 3,343,273 2,548,588
No Specific team 269,841 Total 3,343,273 2,548,588 269,841 6,161,702
Consider women's soccer. Like men's basketball, its scholarship costs are listed at just over $360,000. Yet while basketball was allocated $449.473 in reported donations, women's soccer is listed at just $40,152—less than 10 percent of the hoops money. This is no isolated example. Using basic arithmetic, I divided reported donations by scholarship amounts to create a table that shows how dissimilar the two data sets are. If the numbers were proportional, the ratios in each cell would be the same, but instead, they're all over the place. Again, take a look:RATIO (Contributions/Scholarships) Men Women No Gender TOTAL Baseball 14% - - Basketball 124% 16% - Bowling - 1% - Football 77% - - Golf 53% 1% - Rifle - 1% - Sand Volleyball - 30% - Soccer 25% 11% - Softball - 17% - Tennis 7% 4% - Track & Field - 5% - Volleyball - 6% -
UAB's reported donations don't appear to be proportional to scholarship costs, no matter what the school is telling the public. There's no way to spin this to make donations proportional to scholarships, not with bowling at one percent, football at 77 percent and men's basketball at 124 percent.
In fairness to UAB, I've also considered one additional possibility—perhaps the school first credits each sport with direct donations made in the name of said sport, and then allocates general donations to the various sports in some sort of proportional manner. That might even make some sense. Only that isn't happening, either. As CBS Sports' Solomon reports:
… in terms of direct giving for 2013, UAB received about $680,000 in gifts for men's basketball and $110,000 for football, Bolton said. '"That's what drove the 70-20-10 split (used by Carr to allocate contributions)," he said ...
Oops. Let's go back in time to eighth grade math class. If $110,000 is 20 percent, then $680,000 is 124 percent. Since these percentages can't exceed one hundred, basically, no, this doesn't support a 70-20-10 percent split.
The bigger problem is that if $680,000 of UAB donations were earmarked specifically for men's basketball, why did the school only report a total of $450,000 to the NCAA and the federal government? We've already ruled out scholarship proportionality. If someone tells you they are donating to fund men's hoops, and then you tell the government something else, that seems a bit—well, I don't want to say dishonest, so let's just say inaccurate. As inaccurate as telling the NCAA that football generates $1,136,522 in donations while telling the public the same number is $351,126.
And that brings us back to the bigger picture. The report UAB used as grounds for cutting football was riddled with inaccuracies. The excuses the school has used to explain some of those inaccuracies are also inaccurate. Does UAB care to justify itself a third time? I'm told that it's often the charm. Unless, of course, the inaccuracy is by design.