It is a humbling turnabout from the confident statements by Watts and the board of trustees in the wake of the original decision on Dec. 2
, when they asserted that the escalation of the arms race in top-tier college football had made the sport financially untenable for a program like that of U.A.B. But the community, with its voracious appetite for football, did not take the conclusion lightly. Questions about the consultant’s report have emerged, too.
At the annual N.C.A.A. convention outside Washington last month, the five biggest conferences voted to allow their members to increase the value of scholarships to cover student-athletes’ full cost of attendance, leaving administrators at other midmajor programs to face the same changing landscape. The midmajor programs do not receive the same millions of dollars from lucrative television contracts, and many report already strained athletic budgets even as some count on football as an important marketing tool. Many have stated that they plan to follow the lead of the larger programs as they examine how football and other sports fit into their budgets and on their campuses.
Kent State recently paid $35,000 to an outside consultant to review the fiscal viability of its $26 million athletic department and its football program, which has had only one winning season since 2006.
Beverly J. Warren, Kent State’s first-year president, said by phone that the review was something she had wanted to authorize as soon as she was appointed in January 2014. It was not prompted by the recent N.C.A.A. legislation, but it will certainly account for the changing times.
“I think this assessment is going to be very timely,” Warren said. “It’s really prudent, and the right thing to do, to be prepared and understand how Kent State supports its athletics program for its best future and the best future of our university.”
To tamp down concerns on campus, she underscored one point emphatically: The review was not designed to determine whether any sports, including football, should be eliminated.
But Warren said it was difficult to ignore the national dialogue in the aftermath of U.A.B.’s decision to ask CarrSports, a consulting firm run by Bill Carr, a former Florida athletic director, to audit its athletic budget. The report concluded that football would drive subsidies even higher in the future and require a $49 million investment during the next five years to remain competitive.
Some of the report’s math, though, has since come under fire. Articles by Jon Solomon on the CBS Sports website and by the economist Andy Schwarz at Vice Sports offered pointed critiques, noting that the report did not account for football’s role in annual payouts to the university of around $2 million from Conference USA and may have underreported football donations to the university’s athletic department.
The questions helped fuel the anger over Watts’s decision, and the undergraduate and graduate student governments and faculty senate have passed resolutions of no confidence in the president. With public pressure mounting, Watts announced the formation of a new task force Jan. 9 to re-examine the Carr report — including the issue of whether football should be reinstated.
“He went from saying, ‘There’s no way in the world we’re bringing back any of these sports,’ to saying, ‘We’re going to have a task force,’ ” said Frank Messina, U.A.B.’s athletics faculty representative, an accounting professor and a member of the new task force.
Wes Smith, the president of the U.A.B. National Alumni Society and chairman of the task force, said many students, alumni and athletic backers felt the choice had been made without any attempt to obtain their opinions.
“The process left people on the sidelines,” Smith said. “And when you leave people on the sidelines, they’re generally not going to be supportive of what you believe to be the right conclusion.”
The Athletics Assessment Task Force, which has nine members representing various university constituencies, including students, faculty and alumni, has made transparency a priority and has already held town-hall meetings on campus.
The first objective, Smith said, is seeking an accounting firm and college sports experts to examine the numbers again. Among the names floated for the job has been that of Schwarz, the economist who has written for Vice Sports; he also consulted on the recent federal antitrust lawsuit that successfully challenged N.C.A.A. restrictions on payments to student-athletes for the use of their images.
“The biggest problem with the Carr study is it relied on numbers that weren’t designed to answer the questions of whether football is making or losing money,” Schwarz said. “Inflows and outflows aren’t enough.”
Susan Key, a member of the faculty senate and a management professor at U.A.B., said she was still struggling to understand why the university — with a budget of more than $2 billion — could not afford football.
“The whole athletic department is a fraction of the budget,” she said.
Conference USA bylaws require members to have football teams, and last week, Watts traveled to Boca Raton, Fla., to ask Conference USA university presidents to allow U.A.B. to remain a member, even without football.
One thing has already been decided: U.A.B. will not play football in 2015. April 2 is a self-imposed deadline for the task force to make a recommendation to the university based on the findings of the new study.
“We collectively feel that speed is very important,” Smith said. “This can’t be a long and drawn-out process, because healing does have to take place.”