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UAB to switch athletic conferences, ushers more changes for Birmingham sports

UAB defensive lineman Antonio Moultrie (44) reacts after a stop against Appalachian State during the first half of the New Orleans Bowl NCAA college football game in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
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UAB defensive lineman Antonio Moultrie (44) reacts after a stop against Appalachian State during the first half of the New Orleans Bowl NCAA college football game in New Orleans, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

The University of Alabama at Birmingham will switch athletic conferences on July 1. UAB has been a charter member of Conference USA since 1995. However, starting Saturday, the team will become a member of the American Athletic Conference (AAC).

UAB’s decision will signal new changes for its sports teams. All UAB games will now be broadcast on one or more ESPN platforms due to AAC’s television contract with the cable company. This includes streaming service ESPN+ and channels ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.

Mark Ingram is the director of athletics for UAB. He said gaining wider audiences is not the only positive impact this change will have on the university.

“It’s better for us financially,” he said. “There’s a greater financial distribution to us annually, which we’ll look forward to. That should help our operating budget and assist us with continuing to provide more for our student athletes and our coaches.”

The Blazers will also get the chance to relive some historic athletic rivalries.

“There’s a number of schools in the [American Athletic Conference] who used to be in Conference USA and were traditional rivals of ours,” Ingram said. “We’re renewing those rivalries now with a lot of those teams. Memphis, just as an example, is only three hours up the road. We had, historically, a terrific rivalry with them. We will look forward to renewing that [rivalry] and several others.”

UAB is one of six colleges moving to the AAC this year, including the University of North Carolina Charlotte, Florida Atlantic University, the University of North Texas, Rice University and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

To celebrate the switch, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin created UAB Day at the latest city council meeting on Tuesday. UAB Day is this Saturday, and the city of Birmingham will be lit green and gold to commemorate the school’s decision. The newly green monuments will include Protective Stadium, City Walk, City Hall, Sloss Furnace, Regions Field, the UAB campus, UAB athletic facilities and more.

Ingram said this conference change has been in the works for quite some time. In fact, the AAC approached UAB in October 2021 to discuss possible recruitment.

“For many years, our goal [has been] to be the best version of ourselves,” he said. “The American Athletic Conference saw us as an opportunity to improve themselves and add us and so we did… We saw the opportunity to carry our brand to more major cities around the country like Tampa, New Orleans, Memphis, Dallas, Tulsa, Philadelphia and the Baltimore area. It was just the opportunity to better promote our institution.”

Ingram said this decision is one of many highlights for the UAB athletic program in recent years.

“We’ve won more games across the board over the last eight years than any other period in our history… We’ve won more championships and competed for more championships than any time in our history,” he said. “We built what may be the nicest football stadium in the country, Protective Stadium right here in downtown Birmingham. It may not be the biggest, but it is incredibly nice. Those are just a few of our biggest bragging points.”

Since Ingram’s induction as athletic director in 2015, UAB has built and renovated more than 25 athletic facilities across the city. However, Ingram said it is not just athletic programs seeing a boost. In the last eight years, UAB has seen its graduation rate increase from 76% to 96%, and the college had the highest athlete GPA among all Conference USA teams this school year.

Ingram said this conference change is just one of many revisions the school hopes to make for years to come.

“We’re going to keep trying to be the best version of ourselves and win. We’ll continue to try and improve and be better,” he said. “We’ll make those necessary [and] needed improvements for our teams that need it and give our coaches the opportunity to recruit great players who then have a great place to train and compete. That’s been our plan and that continues to be our plan. As they say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

AAC is now a 15-team conference. Preexisting conference schools include East Carolina University, the University of Memphis, the United States Naval Academy (in football only), the University of South Florida, Southern Methodist University, Temple University, Tulane University, the University of Tulsa and Wichita State University (in basketball and Olympic sports only). UAB will play all 15 teams over the next four years.

Joshua LeBerte is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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