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The Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia on Thursday, April 22, 2021. Sanford Stadium is home to the University of Georgia's football team, the Georgia Bulldogs. (Photo/Melanie Velasquez; melanie.velasquez0108@gmail.com)

In less than a week, University of Alabama at Birmingham will travel to Athens for Georgia football’s second game of the 2021 season. The Bulldogs paid the Blazers a mere $1.8 million for the matchup, one of the largest amounts Georgia has ever paid to play an opponent.

Just seven years ago, in December 2014, UAB shut down its football program, as well as its bowling and rifle programs, with the hopes of reallocating funds to the remaining athletic programs at the university. Its athletic department paid around $2.43 million to cancel its games planned for future years, and the program was done for good. Or so they thought.

“There really wasn’t much passion for the football program,” said UAB assistant vice president and director of athletics Mark Ingram. “People don’t like hearing this, but it made a lot of sense.”

An uproar in support for the football program caused tension throughout the city of Birmingham. John Knox, a University of Georgia professor and UAB graduate, said that immediately after UAB president Ray Watts announced the removal of the program, he worked with an independent bookstore and college friends to sell a bumper sticker that said, “#Free UAB, Fire Ray Watts.”

The strain on the city continued for months. “It became very personal,” Ingram said. “We were building this building, and our painter decided to not show up, and said they would finish the job when UAB reinstated football.”

By June 2015, only months after his announcement to scrap football, Watts and the university announced that they would reinstate the three programs.

Ingram said that Watts wanted more money raised to rebuild the football facilities before the football program returned. Knox and other passionate members of the UAB community raised millions in a matter of weeks, and in 2017, the university unveiled a brand-new $22.5 million football facility.

UGA vs. UAB

UAB announced in 2017, its first year back as a part of NCAA football, that it had set a meeting with Georgia to play in 2021. The teams agreed that UGA would pay $1.8 million to UAB for the game, which is set to be Georgia’s first home game of this year.

Historically, Georgia has paid non-conference schools to play a home game multiple times each season. These matchups have been standard on SEC schedules for years and provide both schools with needed revenue. The traveling team is paid for the matchup, and UGA gets revenue from many aspects such as ticket sales and concessions, while Athens businesses profit from visiting fans.

Georgia is making payments to two schools this season: UAB and Charleston Southern, which is scheduled to travel to Athens in November in exchange for a $500,000 payment. The $1.8 million UAB is receiving is one of the largest sums Georgia has ever paid to play an opponent, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

According to the athletic department, Georgia is willing to pay a different amount for each game depending on overall revenue.

“UGA Athletics compiles an operating budget based on projected revenues. Guarantee payments are a part of the annual budget and included in operating expenses,” said the UGA Athletic Association. Georgia is slated to play Kent State during its 2022 season and agreed to pay the team $1.9 million.

Georgia football will still make a profit this season. Georgia received $4 million, along with its opponent Clemson, to travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, for its Sept. 4 season opener.

Since its return in 2017, UAB has had an overall record of 35-16 and has earned a bowl game in all four seasons. Additionally, in 2018 and 2020, it won the Conference USA Championship. The Bulldogs will kick off against UAB for the first time since 2006 on Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. in Sanford Stadium.

Katherine Lewis is a senior at the University of Georgia and is the assistant sports editor. She is a journalism major and statistics minor and with a certificate in sports media.

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