A source of pride ' and debt

UB's status as a Division I school isn't in peril, but is worth scrutinizing

When UB announced that Lance Leipold would be UB football’s new head coach, everyone had plenty to say. From ESPN and Sports Illustrated to The Spectrum, the news and the excitement it generated was contagious.

President Tripathi, however, seems to be immune to optimism.

On Monday, when WBFO News asked Tripathi to comment on the Leipold’s hiring, he had nothing to say, directing all questions to Athletic Director Danny White.

Though Tripathi followed up with The Spectrum the next day, stating that he just wanted to ensure that White and Leipold were in the spotlight and expressing his belated support for Leipold.

But Tripathi’s initial reticence spoke louder than any statement he could have made – in the moment, or as a follow-up.

His silence encourages speculation: How does this university’s president really feel about UB’s football program and the athletic department at large – a department that operates at an annual deficit of $22.1 million?

It’s a question worth contemplating, as just days ago the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) announced that is was shutting down its football program.

Like UB, Birmingham is a Division I school, and like UB, their football program has experienced only moderate success – they may be Division I, but they can’t really compete with top-tier powerhouses like Alabama and Auburn.

But unlike UB, Birmingham’s team finished its season 6-6, qualifying for a bowl game and operated at a deficit of 17.5 million.

So a team that performed better than UB, and cost their school more than $4 million less than Buffalo’s program is shutting its doors.

UB is far from the only school in a similar position. Thirteen other universities had programs with deficits over $20 million in 2012-13, according to a story by CBS Sports, and none of them have followed UAB’s lead. There’s no indication that UB will either – unless Tripathi’s apathy qualifies.

Being a Division I school is exciting – and heartbreaking. Our football team gets to play big-name schools and perform on ESPN, but that also means that an even larger, national audience watches UB lose to Baylor by more than 40 points.

But athletic defeat and financial losses aren’t the only factors at play. If they were, it’d be all too easy to recommend that UB cut its costs and shut down the program.

When UAB shut down its program, it didn’t just eliminate a financial burden. They also shattered the dreams of its football players, students with athletic aspirations, who came to UAB to play for a team that suddenly no longer exists.

The players’ reactions to the announcement of the shutdown are nothing short of heartbreaking. Doing the same to UB’s players is tough to imagine – or justify.

And under White’s regime, the scenario will hopefully never come to fruition. He wants a big-time program, and with Leipold at the helm, maybe this conversation can be deemed irrelevant.

But for now, it’s difficult to look past Tripathi’s attitude. It’s even harder, impossible even, to ignore $22 million.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com