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No play no pay: Birmingham Council members consider ending cash for SWAC in 2014 budget
Birmingham city funding for the Southwestern Athletic Conference could be slashed or eliminated altogether following the college sport’s conference decision to move its football and basketball championships to Houston, Texas.
Birmingham last year spent $500,000 on SWAC and is set to increase the amount to $550,000 under Mayor William Bell’s proposed 2014 budget.
But several council members question why the city would continue to provide money for the Birmingham-based conference that is shipping its major events away from Birmingham.
“The city has shown good will toward them. Certainly we’re not responsible for promoting their conference, but we have been a solid partner,” Council President Roderick Royal said. “But if we cannot have certain tournaments and or the championship games in basketball and football, then the city needs to move to terminate the contract and let Houston pick up the weight.”
SWAC funding could be an issue discussed this afternoon as council members hold their first work session on the city’s 2014 budget.
SWAC officials last week announced the football game would leave Legion Field and head to Houston for the December game.
The championship had been in Birmingham since 1999. In addition, the basketball tournament formerly held at Fair Park, last season was held in Dallas. The games will also head to Houston in 2014.
The city also provides downtown office space for SWAC.
“If there is no bottom line taxpayer benefit then the city should move along. I would feel that way about all of those venues that receive taxpayer dollars,” Royal said. “That’s unfortunate, but let the die roll and ‘goodbye.’”
City support for SWAC was based upon the touted economic impact the events had on the city through hotel, restaurant and other spending by visitors.
Public spending for events must be justified by the expected return, council members said.
“I understand there is still one SWAC event scheduled for the city in our new fiscal year,” said Councilwoman Kim Rafferty. “I would assume that very soon, the administration will be bringing adjusted numbers to us, reserving what will be needed for the SWAC Track and Field event and significantly lower the amount budgeted.”
It remains unclear Bell’s current position on SWAC funding in light of the move. Multiple calls and emails to his chief of staff, Chuck Faush, were not returned after several days.
The city has no reason to continue handing out cash if it fails to get a real return, said Councilman Steven Hoyt, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee.
Hoyt compared SWAC to the Southeastern Conference - another organization headquartered in Birmingham without holding games in the city.The SEC’s only link to the city is an address, while the games and their economic benefits go to Atlanta, he said.
“Indeed it’s sad that all the years of dollars we’ve pumped into SWAC that they’re not more committed to staying here,” Hoyt said. “The first opportunity they get, they’re moving out. It just goes to show we’ve got to think how we incentivize businesses.”
The SWAC’s move does not affect the Magic City Classic, the annual matchup between Alabama State and Alabama A&M Universities, which is also played at Legion Field.
While the colleges are SWAC schools, the Classic is a separate event and would continue to receive municipal support as one of the largest sporting events within the city.
By Joseph D. Bryant, Birmingham News