Dec 182014
 

newyorktimes

By JOHN MARKOFF
DEC. 16, 2014

Scientists have begun what they say will be a century-long study of the effects of artificial intelligence on society, including on the economy, war and crime, officials at Stanford University announced Monday.

The project, hosted by the university, is unusual not just because of its duration but because it seeks to track the effects of these technologies as they reshape the roles played by human beings in a broad range of endeavors.

“My take is that A.I. is taking over,” said Sebastian Thrun, a well-known roboticist who led the development of Google’s self-driving car. “A few humans might still be ‘in charge,’ but less and less so.”

Artificial intelligence describes computer systems that perform tasks traditionally requiring human intelligence and perception. In 2009, the president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, Eric Horvitz, organized a meeting of computer scientists in California to discuss the possible ramifications of A.I. advances. The group concluded that the advances were largely positive and lauded the “relatively graceful” progress.

But now, in the wake of recent technological advances in computer vision, speech recognition and robotics, scientists say they are increasingly concerned that artificial intelligence technologies may permanently displace human workers, roboticize warfare and make of Orwellian surveillance techniques easier to develop, among other disastrous effects.

Dr. Horvitz, now the managing director of the Redmond, Wash., campus of Microsoft Research, last year approached John Hennessy, a computer scientist and president of Stanford University, about the idea of a long-term study that would chart the progress of artificial intelligence and its effect on society. Dr. Horvitz and his wife, Mary Horvitz, agreed to fund the initiative, called the “One Hundred Year Study on Artificial Intelligence.”

In an interview, Dr. Horvitz said he was unconvinced by recent warnings that superintelligent machines were poised to outstrip human control and abilities. Instead, he believes these technologies will have positive and negative effects on society.

“Loss of control of A.I. systems has become a big concern,” he said. “It scares people.” Rather than simply dismiss these dystopian claims, he said, scientists instead must monitor and continually evaluate the technologies.

“Even if the anxieties are unwarranted, they need to be addressed,” Dr. Horvitz said.

He declined to divulge the size of his gift to Stanford, but said it was sufficient to fund the study for a century and suggested the amount might be increased in the future.

Dr. Horvitz will lead a committee with Russ Altman, a Stanford professor of bioengineering and computer science. The committee will include Barbara J. Grosz, a Harvard University computer scientist; Deirdre K. Mulligan, a lawyer and a professor in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley; Yoav Shoham, a professor of computer science at Stanford; Tom Mitchell, the chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University; and Alan Mackworth, a professor of computer science at the University of British Columbia.

The committee will choose a panel of specialists who will produce a report on artificial intelligence and its effects that is to be published late in 2015.In a white paper outlining the project, Dr. Horvitz described 18 areas that might be considered, including law, ethics, the economy, war and crime. Future reports will be produced at regular intervals.

Dr. Horvitz said that progress in the field of artificial intelligence had consistently been overestimated.

Indeed, news accounts in 1958 described a neural network circuit designed by Frank Rosenblatt, a psychologist at Cornell University. The Navy enthusiastically announced plans to build a “thinking machine” based on the circuits within a year for $100,000. It never happened.

Still, Dr. Horvitz acknowledged, the pace of technological change has accelerated, as has the reach of artificial intelligence. He cited Stuxnet, the malicious program developed by intelligence agencies to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, as an example.

“My grandmother would tell me stories about people running outside when they saw a plane fly over, it was so unusual,” he said. “Now, in a relatively few decades, our worry is about whether we are getting a salt-free meal when we take off from J.F.K. in a jumbo jet.”

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Dec 182014
 

wallstreetjournal

By Ruth Simon
Dec. 17, 2014

Universities are stepping up efforts to create “spinouts,” or business startups born from some of the cutting-edge research of their students or faculty.

Some schools are creating funds that help cover startup costs. Others are pairing scientists with entrepreneurs, launching incubators, or programs to foster business development, and even including entrepreneurial activity in their reviews of faculty.

The moves come as universities face heightened pressure from trustees, government officials and others to demonstrate the value of academic research. Universities and other research institutions created 818 startups in fiscal 2013, up from 705 in 2012 and 670 in 2011, according to the Association of University Technology Managers, a trade group. Universities often receive a royalty or licensing fee from such ventures and in many cases an equity stake, typically 5% to 10% of the new company.

But turning research into viable companies is a challenge, particularly for institutions whose main job is education and research. Genentech Inc., Google Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Yahoo Inc. are frequently cited as examples of prominent spinouts, though in some cases, the companies don’t see themselves that way.

“There aren’t that many success stories” of businesses born of university research, says Darrell West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

University spinouts face a host of obstacles. Technologies emerging from research labs are often embryonic. Academic researchers are typically rewarded for research and publishing, not venture creation, and often have little business experience. Many universities are located far from the funding and people needed to expand companies. Finding ready markets and entrepreneurs to build these businesses are additional challenges.

“I feel like my place is in the lab,” says Alan Mickelson, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Colorado, who brought on a Boulder, Colo.,-based entrepreneur to be the chief executive of a spinout based on his optical communications technology research. Mr. Michelson says building the new company, Red Cloud Communication Inc., requires skills in business and manufacturing that he doesn’t have.

Fewer than 20% of spinouts received venture funding from professional investors, according to the latest available data from the Association of University Technology Managers. However, that data ended in 2009. Because many spinouts aim to grow into large companies, “the financial resources and expertise venture firms bring to bear are critical,” says Andrew Nelson, an assistant professor of management at the University of Oregon who has studied spinouts.

Osage University Partners, a venture fund that invests in spinouts, found that 18% of spinouts had received venture funding as of Nov. 30. Another 18% secured financing from wealthy individuals known as angel investors, according to Osage, which has the right to make follow-on investments in spinouts from 70 universities and research institutions. The study examined more than 2,700 spinouts over roughly a decade from these institutions.

More universities are trying to fill the funding gap with their own money. In September, the University of Minnesota launched an early-stage venture fund to invest up to $20 million in university-related startups, with individual companies receiving up to $350,000. The University of Wisconsin System this past spring launched a $2 million seed fund to help commercialize faculty, staff and student research.

The University of California regents in September approved the creation of a venture fund that will initially invest up to $250 million in startups based on university research. The UC system is developing a business plan for the fund, which aims to provide solid investment returns and support technology commercialization and entrepreneurship, says Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher.

‘The financial resources and expertise venture firms bring to bear are critical.’
—Andrew Nelson, assistant professor of management at the University of Oregon

Some universities are turning to foundations for assistance. HistoSonics Inc., a University of Michigan spinout, used a $400,000 Wallace H. Coulter Foundation grant to help prove the feasibility of its therapeutic ultrasound technology. HistoSonics, which has raised $14.2 million in venture funding, will be seeking another $20 million to move its first therapy to market and develop new products.

Among Coulter’s requirements: spinouts must identify a ready market, bring on a business expert and focus on patient care. Coulter, a Miami-based nonprofit, funds the commercialization of biomedical research at 15 universities, up from an initial nine in 2006.

Some schools are making the science they have developed more accessible to encourage more business creation. As part of its Arizona Furnace Technology Transfer Accelerator program, Arizona State University has translated 216 of its patented technologies into plain English.

That effort has resulted in the creation of nine startups, including NextPotential, which converts carbon-dioxide waste from manufacturing into natural gas. Without the program, “there is no chance I would have ever found this technology,” says Duncan Hoffman, 26 years old, a co-founder of the Scottsdale-based company, which has six employees. Arizona State plans to translate another 50 of its patents into layman’s terms by next spring, with the goal of creating five to 10 more spinouts.

Many schools are stepping up efforts to connect researchers with business experts. The University of Michigan employs eight time part-time “mentors in residence,” who assess promising technologies, help build startups and recruit entrepreneurs and funders.

The University of Colorado’s technology transfer office connected Mr. Mickelson with the Innovation Center of the Rockies and its network of 1,600 “domain expert advisers.” Tim Bour, an entrepreneur who directs the center, ultimately signed as chief executive of the new company. Mr. Mickelson says he plans to continue teaching and research, while serving as co-founder and chief technical officer.

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Dec 182014
 

post

By Nick Anderson
December 18

A higher education leader in Massachusetts and former president of Towson University will be the next chancellor of Maryland’s state university system, officials announced Wednesday.

Robert L. Caret, 67, president of the five-campus University of Massachusetts system since 2011, will become chancellor of the University System of Maryland in July.

The system, based in Adelphi, encompasses the flagship University of Maryland at College Park, 10 other public universities, a center for environmental science on the Eastern Shore and regional centers in Shady Grove and Hagerstown. The system does not include Morgan State University or St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The move is a homecoming for Caret: He was president of Towson, a public university in Baltimore County, from 2003 to 2011, and he worked there for many years as an academic and administrator. A chemist, Caret also was president of San Jose State University in California from 1995 to 2003.

“He brings years of experience as the outstanding leader of two public universities and a public system of higher education,” James L. Shea, chairman of the Maryland system’s Board of Regents, said in a statement. “He is adept at building partnerships that benefit institutions and the surrounding communities.”

Caret will succeed William E. Kirwan, who in May announced that he would retire after 12 years in the position.

Caret will take office at a time of political transition for the state. Republican Larry Hogan will succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in January, changing the dynamics on fiscal policy. Hogan has pledged to cut taxes and make hard choices on spending. Tuition policy at system campuses and state funding for higher education are likely to be key issues because of a two-year state budget shortfall that has grown to nearly $1.2 billion.

Caret will earn an annual salary of $600,000 during a five-year contract, system spokeswoman Anne Moultrie said. The system’s foundation also owns a residence for the chancellor.

Maryland’s system is about twice the size of the one he leads in Massachusetts, Caret said.

“It’s a step up in terms of complexity and challenges,” he said. Caret said he anticipates continuing Kirwan’s efforts to make public universities more efficient, through online instruction and other methods. A key question, he said: “How do we maintain high quality at reasonably low cost for the citizens of the state and for citizens out of state?”

Tuition and fees for Maryland residents at U-Md. this year total $9,427. A College Board study found that the in-state price of the flagship university has risen 6 percent after inflation over the past five years, one of the lowest increases in the nation.

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Dec 172014
 

reflector1

By Ginger Livingston
December 17, 2014

A legislative committee’s recommendation to build a new medical examiner’s office in Greenville is welcome news to the director of the Brody School of Medicine’s autopsy and forensic services program.

Building a new Greenville facility is one of the recommendations a legislative oversight committee is seeking to reform the N.C. Office of the Medical Examiner.

The committee will present five categories of recommendations to the General Assembly when it reconvenes on Jan. 14, the Associated Press reported.

Replacing the Brody School of Medicine facility with a state-owned facility would cost $11.5 million, according to the report.

Local medical examiners conduct autopsies in Vidant Medical Center’s morgue, said Dr. William Oliver, professor of pathology and director of autopsy and forensic services at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

“The facilities that we have here are very, very old, somewhat outdated,” Oliver said. “They are difficult to keep clean and to maintain and quite frankly they are small enough that is it difficult for us to handle the volume of work we have here. I think it is about time these facilities that are about 30 years old are upgraded.”

It would be difficult to retrofit the morgue facilities to accommodate much of the equipment and technology used in modern forensics, Oliver said. It also would be impossible to retrofit the area to conduct autopsies on individuals suspected of having infectious diseases, he said.

Modern medical examiners have built-in imaging capabilities such as full body x-rays, CT scans and MRIs.

“Vidant Medical Center has been very supportive about helping us with all those things to get the job done, but it would probably be a little bit better to have those things right when we need them,” Oliver said.

The office of chief medical examiner wants to continue its relationship with the university if a new medical examiner’s office is built, Oliver said.

Through providing access to other doctors for consultations during autopsies and subsequent tissue examinations, the university’s anthropology department provides forensic consultations, Oliver said.

Along with the facility recommendation, the committee has recommended establishing a fellowship program in forensic pathology at the university.

“Over the next many years there is going to be a rapidly increasing need for forensic pathologists and North Carolina is basically going to have to train its own,” Oliver said.

Right now, most students leave the state to receive that training and few return, he said.

The National Academy of Sciences has found that across the nation a large number of medical legal death investigations were performed by people not certified as forensic pathologists, Oliver said.

The federal government has established a program through the National Institute of Science and Technology to set standards that likely will require medical legal death investigations be conducted by board-certified forensic pathologists, Oliver said.

There are 500 certified forensic pathologists in the nation. There should be about 2,000, Oliver said.

The committee also is recommending Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center receive $12.4 million for a new autopsy center.

There would be an expansion of the Mecklenburg County medical examiner’s office at a cost of $750,000.

Also proposed are autopsy centers in Wilmington and Asheville to serve their respective regions.

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Dec 172014
 

reflector1

By Michael Abramowitz
December 17, 2014

Two N.C. Senate representatives were guests Tuesday of a special joint administrative meeting of the Vidant Health System boards of directors and trustees, seeking support for its health care agenda for the 2015 legislative session.

Vidant Health System interim chief executive Janet Mullaney told Sens. Louis Pate (R- Mt. Olive) and Don Davis (D- Snow Hill) about the importance of eastern North Carolina’s legislative delegation in representing the health care needs of their constituents and the role that Vidant Health System and the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University play in their care.

“Health care is very personal, so it is important that you understand the work we do for the people of eastern North Carolina,” Mullaney said.

Vidant Medical Center president Brian Floyd told Pate and Davis that Vidant serves as the health care hub of a large geographic area with unique needs.

“We knew 50 years ago that there were disproportionate health care needs and a rate of morbidity in the east that don’t exist in the rest of the state,” Floyd said.

Health care disparities still exist in the east, but the gap is closing because of the two institutions, Floyd said. Currently, 26 percent of Brody graduates remain in the east each year to practice medicine, and more than 50 percent stay in North Carolina to fulfill the school’s mission.

While less than one percent of U.S. hospitals have more than 800 beds, Vidant Medical Center has 909 beds and admits nearly 50,000 patients each year, the highest admissions level in the state. Its Level-1 trauma care center is the only one of its kind east of Interstate 95. Vidant’s emergency department cares for more than 120,000 patients annually.

“That’s because Vidant is serving all of eastern North Carolina with tertiary critical care for patients who are too sick for a lower level of care,” Floyd said.

Beyond the care Vidant provides to the people of the east, it also stimulates more than $2.5 billion of the region’s annual economy, providing jobs for more than 13,000 people, Floyd said.

Vidant government relations officer Daniel Van Lier presented an overview for Davis and Pate of Vidant’s 2015 legislative agenda. Key topics will be Medicaid reform and expansion; the Certificate of Need law; support for public/private partnerships; tax exempt status; and funding for behavioral health, Van Lier said.

“Community hospitals, physicians and community care organizations are committed to … creating a provider-led solution over a reasonable period of time,” Van Lier said.

Vidant officials are seeking Medicaid expansion that would call for a state investment of $250 million annually to be joined with a $2.2 billion annual federal investment to cover people up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The Certificate of Need law allows Vidant Health to maintain facilities and provide critical care services in underserved areas by cross-subsidizing unprofitable services, including its children’s hospital and trauma center, through profitable services that would be lost if the CON law is amended, Van Lier said.

Vidant and the Brody School would like the Legislature to restore to 100 percent the Medicaid reimbursement, which was reduced to 70 percent in 2014, a projected annual loss of about $3.8 million.

Van Lier said that changes being considered to the tax code jeopardize Vidant’s ability to provide health care to low-wealth counties. The system provided more than $152 million in unreimbursed health care last year, he said.

Dr. Greg Murphy, a private practice urologist who chose eastern North Carolina to establish his business, told Pate and Davis that without Brody and Vidant in Greenville, he would not have been able to recruit any other urologists to his practice, denying care for many people in the eastern portion of the state.

“Our practice now is the busiest urology practice in the state,” Murphy said. “We can only maintain that because of the school’s presence. No other business I know of can operate at 70 percent of cost. If I don’t have the dollars to pay my staff, my door closes. I’m begging and pleading with you to help keep us here. The people of eastern North Carolina need us; without us they have no one.”

After hearing the Vidant presentation, Davis said the vision established by The Brody School and Vidant with its predecessors has sustained through the recent economic recession in large part because of their leaders’ willingness to go to Raleigh during the last legislative session and fight for their patients’ and region’s needs.

“We’ll stay in the fight,” Davis said. “(Sen. Pate) and I have been working hand in hand and totally in lockstep, but not all our colleagues have made this easy. Your presence at the Legislature didn’t get everything we wanted, but it closed some of the gap.”

Davis said the challenge now is to find a way to capture and articulate to the Legislature the impact of the complete legislative package on health care delivery in the east.

“I believe we have a lot to be proud of,” Davis said. “If everyone understood what we’ve gone through, they could understand our vision.”

Pate told the joint boards that many in North Carolina, including the State Legislature, do not yet understand the value of Vidant and the Brody School.

“Many of our colleagues represent that sort of mindset,” Pate said. “Another factor working against us is our population disparity, compared with the urban areas of our state. Our rural nature is part of our beauty, but also works against us when trying to get the state’s attention.”

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Dec 172014
 

reflector1

By Nathan Summers
December 17, 2014

The unfortunate pain of a teammate has given Terrell Richardson the pleasure of being a starter for the East Carolina football team, a bittersweet but common twist in football.

ECU’s only benefit in losing senior strong safety Lamar Ivey to a shattered wrist a couple of weeks ago was gaining more reps for Richardson, a sophomore former walk-on who has become part of the Pirates’ immediate future.

The two safeties developed a bond while competing for the starting job during the preseason, a battle that saw Richardson the favorite until the final weeks of August camp. Then, suddenly, Ivey took flight and became arguably the best player in the secondary for the 8-3 Pirates until his season-ending injury against Tulsa on Nov. 28.

“It’s tough because he came so far from his sophomore year going in and out, and he took off this year,” Richardson said of Ivey, a four-year player who had never been a starter until this season. “Against Cincinnati when he got those two picks and a fumble recovery, he became almost like the golden child, and it was hard replacing him, and I felt pressure.”

But Richardson has largely filled the void without a lapse at the position.

Although he has just 14 tackles in 11 games in mostly limited duty, at 210 pounds Richardson is nearly 15 pounds heavier than Ivey and has already administered some heavy hits.

But he said he’s just following the trend.

“Since the (N.C.) Central game (on opening night), we set the tone with being physical,” Richardson said. “DaShaun Amos had that big hit and then the whole team got hyped. We’re going to keep doing that.”

According to head coach Ruffin McNeill, Richardson is yet another product of competition.

“That’s that competitive depth, that the guy ahead of him knows the guy behind him is ready to step in anytime, and the guy behind him understands that if he gets in there and wastes reps, he’s going to have some serious consequences to pay,” McNeill said.

Richardson is a firm believer that his previous experience is paying off now.

“I think I’ve had less nerves because I have experience with the starting group, and we already had a relationship,” said Richardson, a product of Raleigh’s Southeast High who walked on with the Pirates in 2012 and played in eight games as a reserve last year before initially winning the starting job last spring. “It was an easy transition, and a surprising one too.”

Tuesday practice

McNeill welcomed senior quarterback Shane Carden back to the practice field on Tuesday after the record-setting passer had been absent for three days to attend the funeral of his grandmother.

The fifth-year head coach continued to praise the work of lead backup Kurt Benkert in Carden’s stead, noting that during the team’s pass skeleton sequence, high quality reps during ECU’s practice routine, Carden took 10 of the 15 snaps and Benkert the remaining five.

The Pirates will continue camp-style workouts — which limit the number of quality reps for starters and top reserves — for the rest of the week before true game-planning begins on Saturday for the Jan. 3 Birmingham Bowl and the 6-5 Florida Gators.

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Dec 172014
 

reflector1

By Jane Dail
December 17, 2014

While many students retreat to Joyner Library at East Carolina University to find a quiet place to study, others come to take a break from the stress of exams with the help of a 160-pound gentle giant.

Students crowded around Zeb, a Great Dane, on Monday afternoon. As he leaned on the legs of his admirers as a sign of affection, groups of girls took photos with him and others offered belly rubs after he plopped on the ground and rolled on his back.

Zeb and other therapy dogs visited the library to serve a stress reliever while students were in the midst of final exams.

Joyner Library Outreach Coordinator Carolyn Willis said she started having therapy animals in the library during exam week about three years ago.

“Other libraries had done it, and as the outreach coordinator I’m always trying to find something to do just to let the students know we’re thinking about them and we care about them,” Willis said. “It’s a stressful time of year.”

The library also offered students free snacks and postcards to send to their families.

“A snack, something to drink, a furbaby; they’re happy,” Willis said of the students.

Willis said all of the animals are certified therapy animals through Pet Partners and someone from the organization contacts her about which canines are available during exam weeks.

“It’s just a break,” she said. “We do it for just an hour, and it’s just enough time to get something to eat, play with the dog. … Many of them are missing their own pets.”

Zeb’s owner, Heidi Leder, said therapy dogs bring joy to people and it is rewarding to bring him to see ECU students.

“I don’t see stressed students come up,” she said. “I feel like if they are maybe quiet when they come up; they leave happy.”

Leder said most people are excited to see Zeb, though some are nervous about his size. One student who admittedly was scared of dogs ended up petting Zeb after Leder said he was friendly.

Leder said she takes Zeb to other schools in the area — such as Greenville Montessori — to serve as a reading dog. Zeb sits with the children and they read books to him to help them practice reading aloud.

Caitlyn Leach, a freshman musical theater student, said she heard about the pet therapy through a friend.

Leach had just finished two exams and said she thought the event would be a good distraction.

“I’m such a dog person and I love big dogs, so this is just so wonderful,” she said. “It’s really great that everybody is doing this. … It’s amazing for someone to think about students like this.”

Leach said petting Zeb helped her feel more relaxed.

“Animals are very happy and caring creatures,” she said. “I think seeing that energy and witnessing it and being able to just hang out with that energy just for a little bit makes you want to have the same energy. It’s contagious.”

Kelly Semon, a sophomore studying recreation therapy, said she was leaving an exam and returned some library books to Joyner. She waited two hours Monday morning for the pet therapy.

Semon has had previous interactions with similar animals when working at a therapeutic recreation summer day camp for young children.

“Once a week we had a therapy dog come in,” she said. “For some of the kids it was just being comfortable around animals. For some of the kids … they were just learning to go up and pet the dog and be gentle.”

She said the therapy dogs played an important role, and she was excited to see Zeb at ECU.

“I don’t commonly see really, really big therapy dogs, not necessarily really tiny yappy ones either, but I have never seen one this big,” Semon said. “It makes me really happy.”

Semon, who has three Boston terriers at home, said there is not much to look forward to during exams except anticipating for them to be over. Pet therapy is a bright side of exam week, she said.

“So many people here have animals at home and they can’t have them in the dorms, they can’t have them in apartments,” Semon said. “You miss interacting with animals and they remind you of home and your family sometimes.”

Dawn Wainwright, a marketing and public relations director for Joyner Library, said the library also was encouraging students to post “#GiveABook” on social media. She said every time someone used the hashtag through Christmas, Penguin Random House will donate a book to Save the Children — pledging up to 25,000 books.

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Dec 172014
 

newyorktimes

By Joe Nocera

December 16, 2014

The most unpopular man in Birmingham, Alabama, these days is Dr. Ray Watts, the president of the University of Alabama-Birmingham. Earlier this month, Watts announced that the school was going to eliminate its football team. You can just imagine what happened next.

When Watts told the team that this would be the last season, one player, Tristan Henderson, angrily challenged him in a video that quickly went viral. Later, several hundred supporters chanted and cheered for the coach, and heckled and chased Watts and his police escort, according to Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com.

NCAA President Mark Emmert described Watts’ decision as “unfortunate.” A group of important donors wrote a letter to the chancellor of the Alabama university system, calling for an investigation into Watts’ decision. Another big supporter, a Birmingham restaurateur, canceled his $45,000 sponsorship of a television network that aired UAB games and ended the use of his restaurant as the locale for the basketball coach’s weekly radio show.

“This is so tragic,” he told a reporter. “It’s like a death.”

Watts, it turns out, is a Birmingham native who played football in high school and who attended the university. He gets how important football is in Alabama. But in pulling together a five-year strategic plan for the school, he came to the conclusion that it simply made no sense to continue fielding a football team. (The school is also eliminating its bowling and rifle teams.)

“Our athletic budget is $30 million,” he told me when we spoke. Of that amount, $20 million comes directly from the school – either through student fees or direct subsidies from the overall university budget. A consultant Watts hired concluded that it would cost an additional $49 million over the next five years to keep the football team competitive with other schools in Conference USA.

“We could not justify subsidizing football if it meant taking away from other priorities,” he said. Then he added, “This is driven significantly by the changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics.”

Ah, yes, the changing landscape. For the last year or more, the big boys in college athletics – the 64 schools that make up the top five conferences, plus Notre Dame – have been agitating for more freedom to make their own rules. They want, for instance, to be able to give their athletes a stipend that goes beyond a scholarship and more fully reflects the “full cost of attendance.” And through their conference commissioners, the power schools issued a series of veiled threats that if they didn’t get more autonomy, they just might bolt from the NCAA.

Not surprisingly, they got their autonomy. The additional benefits will probably cost each of these schools several million additional dollars per year. But universities like Michigan and Auburn and Notre Dame can afford it. It’s the UAB’s of the world – the so-called mid-majors – that have to decide whether to match the benefits the big schools are giving to athletes or go in another direction.

I have no problem with the power schools giving athletes more benefits. But what I always thought would happen when this day came – when the financial difference between the power schools and everybody else became overwhelming – is that the smaller schools in Division 1 would be forced to rethink their priorities, just as UAB has. Maybe not get out of football altogether, but de-emphasize it so that the tail finally stops wagging the dog.

But so far, at least, that is not the case. At a college sports conference last week in New York, nobody gave UAB any credit for pulling out of football. On the contrary: Most of the athletic directors in the room were adamant that they would pay whatever they had to pay to keep pace with the big boys.

“Our board is totally committed to athletics and competing at the highest level,” said Chris May, the athletic director at Saint Louis University. “We are going to be very aggressive.”

“There is no pressure to drop football,” said Mike O’Brien of the University of Toledo. “It is too important to our university.”

When you ask people why it is so important, you get similar responses: a good football team means more applications; it helps generate donations; it is something the community can rally around.

“In many ways, football is our front porch,” said Nagi Naganathan, the interim president of the University of Toledo.

Yet schools that have dropped football have lived to tell the tale. In 1995, the University of the Pacific dropped football – the last major school to do so before UAB.

“Since then, their enrollment has actually gone up,” emailed David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports management at Ohio University.

“Football,” he added, “doesn’t define a university.”

Unfortunately, for too many schools, it does.

The New York Times

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