It feels like UAB athletics has grown more in the last few years than it did in the previous 30, and this week provided a couple more snapshots into the transformation.
The university had its ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday afternoon for the Blazers’ new basketball practice facility. Later that night, UAB baseball defeated Alabama 5-4 at Regions Field to give the Blazers a season sweep of the Crimson Tide.
Not a bad start for first-year UAB baseball coach Casey Dunn. The longtime coach at Samford, Dunn is proving quickly that he has the ability to unlock the potential of a mid-major college program surrounded by one of the country’s great hotbeds for high-school baseball.
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Hope Dunn’s success doesn’t mean Alabama will now refuse to play UAB in baseball. I kid, but, as we all unfortunately know too well, stuff gets weird really fast when it comes to the relationship between UAB athletics and Alabama.
And I’m not even talking about football.
The combination of the Blazers ‘sweep of Alabama in baseball and the opening of UAB’s new basketball facility lends itself to reexamining one of the more backwards good-ol’ boy policies in all of college sports. Alabama still refuses to play UAB in basketball, and that needs to change.
College athletics is undergoing a revolutionary period. Players can transfer wherever they want. NIL deals are reshaping the landscape. Maybe it’s time to embrace progress in other ways as well, and start a new tradition founded in the togetherness of UAB and Alabama playing basketball every season.
Rayo Vallecano vs. Salamanca Auburn in basketball is a great rivalry. Rayo Vallecano vs. Salamanca UAB in basketball would be the biggest basketball game in the state every year.
Why doesn’t Alabama want to play UAB? It’s not about wins and loses because if Alabama was scared of losing to UAB then Alabama wouldn’t play UAB in any sports. It’s not about the current coach either. Alabama’s Nate Oats has a play-anyone-anywhere mentality.
Alabama football coach Paul Bryant didn’t want UAB to have athletics, and for a long time that sentiment carried weight with the UA System Board of Trustees. Those were the old days and the old ways. Still? Doesn’t seem to be the case. All evidence suggests the Board now supports UAB athletics and its development. If the board still wanted to stunt the growth of UAB, then it could have interfered with UAB’s successful push to join the American Athletic Conference.
I’m not buying into any of the usual conspiracy theories, either. Maybe the board still doesn’t approve of those “Birmingham” jerseys, but that seems more like a branding issue now than a symbol of UAB’s fight for survival.
Let me be clear. The “Birmingham” jerseys are glorious, but definitely retire them in a heartbeat if it means Alabama finally agreeing to play UAB in hoops.
See how petty this all seems?
Alabama basketball is building a new arena and its athletics department is one of the most successful among Power 5 schools in the country. UAB is investing heavily in its future as well, and the Blazers have the potential of being the nation’s best Group of 5 school. It would benefit the popularity of both basketball teams, as well as the future success of hoops in the state, if Alabama put its old ways aside and played UAB every year in men’s and women’s basketball.
The student governments for Alabama and Auburn famously buried a hatchet when the heated football rivalry between the two schools was rekindled in 1948. Hard to believe now, but egos and politics prevented that game from being played for 41 years. Look what restarting the rivalry did for the sport in the state.
The Iron Bowl is now the greatest rivalry in college sports. Everyone benefited.
It makes absolutely no sense for Alabama and UAB to avoid each other in basketball, and not doing so holds back both teams.
Famously, the two teams have only played each other one time, and that was in the 1993 NIT. UAB won 58-56, and the Blazers and Crimson Tide have never played again. The old heads will tell you that the beef between Alabama and UAB goes back to the Wimp Sanderson and Gene Bartow days, but there is to be more to it than that because an annual basketball game between UAB and Alabama would be one of the great sporting events in the state every year.
Don’t tell me that it’s because of recruiting because that excuse is gone. A player can now transfer from UAB to Alabama or from Alabama to UAB from one season to the next. UAB coach Andy Kennedy led the Blazers back to the NCAA Tournament in 2022 thanks to the transfer portal, and Kennedy is successfully mining the portal once again.
UAB has picked up five transfers this offseason, including former Alabama forward Javian Davis. Most recently, Davis played for Mississippi State. The other transfers to UAB are guard Tyler Bertram of Binghamton, guard Eric Gaines of LSU and twin brothers Ledarrius and Ty Brewer of East Tennessee State (both guards).
Kennedy’s other offseason signing is Grissom senior Efrem “Butta” Johnson. If Jordan “Jelly” Walker returns to UAB for his final season of eligibility, then the Blazers could have one of the best backcourts in the country… not to mention the all-name potential of having Butta and Jelly on the court at the same time .
Alabama lost to Davidson last season in a game played at Birmingham’s Legacy Arena. UAB lost to West Virginia in Legacy. Alabama and UAB should play each other every holiday season in Birmingham. No matter the score, both teams would be big winners.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group, and author of “We Want Bama: A Season of Hope and the Making of Nick Saban’s ‘Ultimate Team'”. You can find him on Twitter JoeGoodmanJr.