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Does UAB really need a new stadium?
Driving around Birmingham, I spot my favorite billboard. Big, white block letters framed by UAB green proclaim, “Our nationally ranked team wears scrubs.” As I pass by it, a twinge of pride passes through me as I envision the brightest doctors and nurses around gearing up every day to fight and win against disease.
However, it’s not just the high-caliber medical staff that makes UAB a champion in this field; it’s also the university’s continued investment in the sciences that really makes this possible. So to hear that there are plans to spend 75 million dollars on a new home football stadium strikes me as a gross deviation from what has made UAB great.
Though UAB’s graduate schools are ranked among the highest in the country, the same cannot be said about UAB’s football team or stadium. Legion Field now stands as an antiquated relic. Built in the roaring 20’s, our aging home turf feels gigantic when hosting UAB games. Every year the 71,000-seat stadium fails to beckon ever reticent Birminghamians to satisfy their enthusiasm for football.
It does not help that Alabama is a hot bed for great football, with the SEC titans Alabama and Auburn capturing the attention of most. Or that UAB’s Conference USA team continues to post dismal losses like last week’s embarrassing 49-10 loss to Tulane. Or that local sports reporters like Doug Segrest remark that all we seem to do is “flounder with fundamentals.”
The solution to our football woes, according to Dr. Garrison and the Board of Directors, is to build a new stadium on UAB’s campus. This 75 million dollar project hopes to create a venue more conducive to student participation instead of having bothersome shuttle runs from campus to Legion Field.
So far, the Board and Dr. Garrison have high hopes for this initiative, and the current economy with its low construction costs and favorable interest rates provides an ideal time to begin the project.
One important note of dissent came from trustee Joseph Espy, who emphasized the importance of student support for the initiative. Espy cautioned, “I want to look at how much student involvement we have. That is a key factor in moving this forward. Are the students willing to participate and use the facility?”
Epsy’s concerns are right on the mark. If the students never show up, spending millions of dollars on a new football stadium will seem foolhardy at best. I encourage the Board to look at student involvement in other athletics as well. How often are soccer games well attended on campus?
Take Bartow Arena, for example. Despite having a more competitive basketball team, student attendance is moderate at best unless the Blazers are playing a rival like Tennessee. In light of the dearth of student participation at UAB sporting events, spending all of these dollars on a stadium is likely a million dollar mistake.
I disagree with John McMahon, Chairman of the Athletics Committee, who says, “It’s a great time to build a project (because) construction costs are very low.”
If plans for the stadium are in such an early stage, it troubles me that contract negotiations have become such a large component of the process.
Although cost is important, the student body and I entrust that Dr. Garrison will focus instead on the necessity of another stadium and the importance of keeping our scrubs-wearing champions on top.