Eye-opening weekend: UAB fits right in with the AAC
Attendance has been one of the most-discussed subjects regarding UAB Football since its Football Bowl Subdivision introduction in 1996. It's been used to support countless narratives in favor of or in opposition to the program.
As UAB fans have made their presence known at Legion Field since #TheReturn in 2017, critics have been forced to shrink into the shadows. Witness the 39,165 strong who made up the third-largest home crowd in UAB history Thursday night for the thrilling season-opening victory over Alabama State.
That wasn't just the largest home crowd in Conference USA over the first full weekend of the 2019 season. That show of support compares favorably to the home-opening attendance of schools in the American Athletic Conference.
Why compare UAB to the AAC? Because many of us believe UAB would fit perfectly in that conference of peer universities should the American decide to add a school to replace UConn when it departs after this academic year.
Eight AAC programs played home games over the opening weekend. Here are the official attendance records taken from the boxscores on the AAC website with the UAB-Alabama State game added for comparison:
Wisconsin 49, South Florida 0 - Tampa - 46,704
Memphis 15, Ole Miss 10 - Memphis - 44,107
UCF 62, Florida A&M 0 - Orlando - 44,073
UAB 24, Alabama State 19 - Birmingham - 39,165
Cincinnati 24, UCLA 14 - Cincinnati - 38,032
Navy 45, Holy Cross 7 - Annapolis, Md. - 28,531
Temple 56, Bucknell 12 - Philadelphia - 26,378
UConn 24, Wagner 21 - East Hartford, Conn. - 19,648
Tulane 42, FIU 14 - New Orleans - 16,361
That's strictly by the numbers. Add some context, and UAB's attendance looks even more impressive by comparison.
Two of the three AAC teams that drew larger crowds than UAB played Power 5 opponents, who don't often pay visits to Group of 5 stadiums. South Florida welcomed ranked Wisconsin from the Big Ten, and Memphis played host to nearby rival Ole Miss from the SEC.
Despite those rare opportunities, South Florida attracted only 7,000 more fans than UAB-Alabama State while Memphis brought in only 5,000 more. UAB drew more fans than Cincinnati, which hosted UCLA from the Pac-12.
To be fair, Alabama State brought plenty of its own fans to Legion Field, which bolstered Thursday night's attendance, but through two years and one game since UAB returned to the field, the Blazers have demonstrated that their support base has grown to a level that should make them a prime candidate if/when the AAC decides to add to its roster.
There was a time when, with a weak product and an off-campus stadium past its prime, UAB attendance was a concern. Now, with a championship product in the same stadium - which looks good for its age but still is 92 years old - UAB attendance is an undeniable strength.
And when the Blazers move into sparkling 45,000-seat Protective Stadium in 2021, that support should only grow.