The University of Houston looks nice, shiny and new when viewed from the outside. There's a new stadium being constructed, additions being made to the University Center. New buildings dominate the rapidly expanding perimeter of the campus. Enrollment is up. Admission standards are up. It's a Tier One university.
But there's the uncontrolled sprawl. The pothole-filled streets surrounding the campus. The never-ending destruction of Scott Street for the light rail. The lack of available parking for students and visitors. The eyesores that are Agnes Arnold Hall and Philip Guthrie Hoffman are still in massive use. The English Department TAs are underpaid. It's as if the school is a Bluth Company development and the shaky foundation and iffy internet service are just now being discovered.
Take the Athletic Department. A glorious new stadium is arising from the ashes. There's the move to the American Athletic Conference. There's a brand-new women's golf team, and continued improvement for the tennis and men's golf teams. There's the brand-new uniforms. It's all nice and shiny on the outside.
But the football team just suffered the defection of its star running back, and the school has yet to find a stadium for two home games. Hofheinz Pavilion is a dump, and the men's basketball team is engulfed in turmoil with the departure of three players, including the team's leading scorer. Cougar legend Michael Young just had an ugly divorce from the school. The shiny new conference is just another version of Conference USA, and the contract of Tom Franklin, the popular voice of UH football and basketball, was not renewed.
This past year has not been a good one for the big sports. A year after going 13-1 and being on the verge of a BCS Bowl, the football team fell apart. New coach Tony Levine replaced his offensive coordinator after a disappointing game one loss. QB David Piland played like a deer in the highlights and was an interception machine. There was the tragic injury of defensive back D.J. Hayden and continuing injuries throughout the roster.
Now star running back Charles Sims has departed the team, seeking to improve his draft stock by playing for another team (it appears that Sims may also have been the victim of poor advisers). Sims has graduated from UH, and NCAA rules allow graduate students to transfer to other schools and play without sitting out a year if the school allows it -- UH has agreed that Sims can leave as long as he doesn't play for another team in Texas, a conference foe or a team on the UH schedule.
But perhaps an even bigger problem than the departure of Sims is just where it is the Cougars will play games this season. Most of their homes games will be played at Reliant Stadium, but there are still two home games where the Coogs have no place to play -- Reliant's terms are a bit outrageous. BBVA Compass appears to be out of the question because the Dynamo can't commit the dates because of possible playoff scenarios, and the school hasn't been able to agree to terms with Rice for the use of Rice Stadium.
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Two weeks ago UH great Michael Young angrily departed the basketball program, stating that James Dickey was trying to demote him from Director of Basketball Operations to a community relations role, and in leaving, he took his son Joseph, the team's leading scorer, with him. This followed the departures of point guard JJ Thompson and big man Valentine Izundu. The Izundu/Thompson departures appear to have a tie-in with various AAU coaching figures.
This upcoming season is big for UH sports. Tony Levine needs to get football back on track before UH returns to the campus in 2014. The team needs to dominate in The American if it ever really plans to be relevant in the national conversation. The turmoil around the program needs to stop -- no more replacing coordinators after one game, settle on a QB -- and the team needs to play consistent football.
The stakes are probably higher for Dickey and the basketball team. Dickey's never actually had much alumni support, and the issues with Michael Young, no matter how justified Dickey might have been, have just made the relations tougher. Plus The American is a superior basketball conference to C-USA, which will make it much more difficult for the hoops squad to succeed.
The Cougars are getting a new stadium and flashy new uniforms. There's a new conference, and an improved baseball team, and the small revenue sports are on the rise. But as with the university as a whole, it's all just a bright, shiny surface resting on a shaky foundation. UH athletics is on the precipice. A quick fix won't do it. The foundation must be repaired. And come this time next year, the future of UH athletics should be clear. Hopefully it's more than just a shaky edifice erected by The Michael B. Company.