This week the brilliant schedulers have a Thursday night match-up between SMU and University of Houston at lovely but usually empty TDECU Stadium (it just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it). This normally would not matter much as the Cougars are clearly an afterthought on the Houston sports scene these days. But the Houston Texans are also playing the Indianapolis Colts Thursday night in Houston. Not only will no one be at the game, no one will be watching it either. But they might just miss a good one. The Dallas Morning News reports that the cocky Cougars are reported to have taped Mustang jerseys to the floor of the locker room so that they can walk on them all week. That’s just the sort of thing that can occasionally result in a come-uppance for a superior team. There is absolutely no rational reason to think that the 1-3 Ponies can come into Houston and upset a team that is averaging 48 points and over 600 yards a game and is on the verge of its first Top 25 ranking in years. UH quarterback Greg Ward is starting to get Heisman talk and while everyone focuses on the high-flying UH offense under new head coach Tom Herman, the Cougar defense has shown some mettle against a quality opponent like Louisville. Well, all that isn’t going to deter Red from picking the upset here. SMU 37 UH 31.
The University of Houston is desperate to achieve Tier 1 status – this time in athletics. The Texas Tribune reports that UH has transferred over $108 million from vital academic programs to support its athletic programs that the good citizens of Houston could not care less about.
But while fan attendance may be lacking, the university’s teams have received huge support in another way. To fund its ambitions, the University of Houston has transferred more than $100 million from its academic side to its sports programs in recent years, figures reviewed by The Texas Tribune show. Meanwhile, the university has launched or is planning a series of expensive sports construction projects, and the school’s athletics department has struggled to stick to its annual budget.
Athletics departments at public universities are generally expected pay their own bills, with schools usually chipping in to cover shortfalls. But Houston’s subsidies in recent years have grown beyond the norm. From 2008 to 2014, the school transferred $106 million to athletics, according to financial reports reviewed by Tribune.
Houston’s subsidy shows no sign of shrinking this year, even though administrators have told the department that they’d like it to become more self-sustaining. School leaders remain committed to making the teams more competitive. They see basketball and football success as a way to increase the school’s visibility and strengthen student and alumni ties. To do so, administrators say, the school has to spend money.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle reports on exactly how little the City of Houston at large cares about UH’s quest to become the No. 4 sports attraction in Houston (after the Texans, Astros and Rockets).
Imagining the Cougars filling the void is laughable in 2015. The University of Houston can’t fill its own football stadium, let alone carry the weight of a major athletics program in a city much more obsessed with the Aggies and Longhorns. But that doesn’t mean Hunter Yurachek can’t recognize the enviable opening currently staring the Cougars straight in the face.
“This is a city that is on the rise, and this is a university that is on the rise. … We want to get to the same level from a wins and losses standpoint and a notoriety standpoint that our pro sports friends are having in this marketplace,” said Yurachek, UH’s vice president for intercollegiate athletics.
Convincing scattered alumni to show up for Tom Herman’s debut against boring Tennessee Tech at TDECU Stadium is one thing. Making the Cougars stand out in a region long devoted to the NFL, NBA and MLB is another battle entirely.
If Herman is juggling 50-pound barbells, Yurachek is lifting multiple mountains at once. Mack Rhoades’ replacement was as honest, upfront and direct as the Cougars’ splashy new football hire during a recent interview. Yurachek also didn’t shy away from the multi-tiered challenges the university faces at it attempts to build something that’s never been built in a city that thrives on endless expansion: a collegiate program that deserves annual attention and devotion, not just random likes on Facebook.
“We’ve got to increase our fan base,” Yurachek said. “We’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000 University of Houston alums that live within an hour drive of this campus. Our season-ticket base for football is roughly about 14-15,000, and that’s not good enough.”
UH sports are laughable indeed. Red advises you to go to a Dynamo game – at least they aren’t wasting your tax dollars on a foolish quest to gain attention.