Hey, Tilman Fertitta, Let's Get the UH House in Order Before Bullying the Big 12

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It's a half hour to tipoff and Hofheinz Pavilion is virtually empty of fans. There are a few kids from the UH band, a few fans spaced around the arena here and there and the selected media and game ops folks sitting courtside. But if the attendance tops 100 people, it's a miracle.

Yes it's a Saturday night. Yes the opponent is Cincinnati. Yes the UH baseball team, one of the best teams in the country, is hosting Alabama at Cougar Field. Yes, 8:30 is a bit late of a start time on a night when the Rockets are also in town. And yes, the Houston Cougars are an awful college basketball team. The excuses are plentiful for why no one's inside Hofheinz Pavilion at the moment, but the excuses just cover up for a fickle fan base that really doesn't give a damn about UH basketball.

Last week, Tilman Fertitta, the chairman of the UH Board of Regents made news when he told the Houston Chronicle that he wanted the Texas Legislature to force the Big 12 to accept Houston into the conference. Never mind that the Texas Legislature was powerless to stop Texas A&M from splitting for the SEC. Never mind that the Texas Legislature can only exert some influence over the actions of two of the conference's 10 members. The legislature should just force UH into the conference.

Putting Houston into the Big 12 is the dream that just won't die among diehard UH backers. It's been the position of some UH alumni ever since the demise of the Southwest Conference that UH should be back in a conference with Texas and Baylor and Texas Tech and TCU, sort of a reunion of the Southwest Conference, forgetting that the mini reunion of UH, SMU, and Rice in Conference USA did absolutely nothing to generate any interest, and forgetting that the Cougars had problems with attendance and fan interest when the school was in the Southwest Conference. It's just accepted dogma that UH should be in a big boy conference playing with the big boys.

"Be a big boy, step up and put this school that has almost 50,000 students and is so high profile, has so many of the top schools in the United States, it's a tier one university -- we belong in the Big 12," Fertitta told the Chron. "We're a big, major school with an unbelievable history in athletics and academia." UH may have an unbelievable history. But when it comes to sports, all that UH can offer up to the conference is a history that basically stopped in the 1980s. Sure there was that magical Case Keenum year that saw the Cougars come within one embarrassing loss of going to a BCS Bowl. And Todd Whitting has done wonders with baseball, getting the squad into the NCAA Super Regionals last year. But where it counts, on the field, UH athletics hasn't really accomplished anything since before the demise of the Southwest Conference.

So then why should the Big 12 have to accept the University of Houston as a member? The Cougars aren't going to deliver the Houston TV market to the conference -- Texas already delivers the Houston TV market to the conference. The school's got a great new football stadium that it has trouble selling out and an aging basketball facility that the school's been trying to figure out for years how to fix, thought the whole renovate/rebuild issue is probably a moot point until that whole funding issue is resolved.

And forget about the Big 12 being forced to take Baylor and Texas Tech when the conference formed. That's an argument that can perhaps be made if a UH grad is ever elected as governor or lieutenant governor, but as of now, there are no politicly influential Cougars that can make any conference do anything, though TCU and Texas Tech might push for UH to join just so their basketball teams will finally have a conference opponent they can defeat.

The Cougars (9-17, 1-13 in conference) lost 63-53 to Cincinnati on Saturday (attendance ended up being 3562 as many fans waited until after tip-off to show up). It was an ugly game that probably had James Naismith rethinking the whole idea of inventing basketball. Action had to be stopped twice due to a malfunctioning clock, with officials have to review the TV feed to determine when the clock stopped so that it could properly be reset.

And don't forget that university auditors are investigating whether the school broke the law when it contracted with Aramark to manage TDECU Stadium despite submitting a bid that didn't conform with the university's management bid requests.Though even if laws weren't broken, any process that ends with Aramark as a winner is one that needs to be questioned and evaluated.

So here's a suggestion for Tilman Fertitta, from one UH grad to another. Forget about the Big 12 for now. Let's get the house at UH in order first. How about throwing around some of your cash and finally getting something done to Hofheinz. I'm sure that if you give the school enough money that it'll be glad to name a new/refurbished arena after you -- sure, nothing that you've done can compete to what the Hofheinz family did for the city and the university, but millions and millions of dollars to fix up an outdated and antiquated facility should be worth the name on the building. Get that done, then maybe it'll be time to try and bully the Big 12.

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