Sard Verbinnen & Co is a PR firm that has a reputation for flying under the radar most of the time. Many say they are the go-to team when you know a PR storm is on the horizon and need to get ahead of it before releasing information that will put you in the middle of a whirlwind.
Such is the case that UAB faced in 2014 when they were making the decision to cut some of the athletic endeavors for financial purposes. Sard Verbinnen advised the leaders at UAB to hold off from announcing their decision until the November Board of Trustee meeting to keep things calm with the Division One football, rifle, and bowling teams. Suggesting that this should keep any disruption to a minimum. In the meantime, the school just kept telling everyone that no decision had been reached yet.
Later, when the University of Alabama was ready to make the announcement public, they first met with the coaches and players to explain their decision. They also shared what UAB would be doing to honor their commitments to the coaches and players. The good news was that the school was working to ensure all employment and scholarships would not be withdrawn. For those players wanting to transfer to other schools where they could play, they were told they would not need to sit out a year (“red shirt”) since the program was being shut down. Normally a player transferring to a different school would be required to sit out one full season before being able to play for another school’s team.
Since UAB was the first college to cut football in almost two decades, the impact of the announcement was felt immediately. No matter how much work had been done by UAB and their PR firm, Sard Verbinnen, in advance, it was not enough. Investigators began digging immediately and found that the extent of the PR efforts and amount of time they waited before making the announcement was not acceptable. The findings in reports used to justify that decision have also been called into question.
For months, UAB officials released information to the press and leaders that no decision would be made about cutting the programs until reports were completed. However, digging into the actual documents, it was found that the decision was made well in advance and that they were just waiting until the November Board of Trustees meeting before making the decision public.
Efforts are now underway to reinstate the programs.