It's easy to jump on the UH fan base and once again belittle the lack of attendance at Hofheinz Pavilion for UH basketball. Yesterday's UH/Rutgers game was a noon tip-off, and the excuses range from church, the marathon, the great weather, and NFL playoffs. But none of that really matters because it just appears that it's getting to the point where UH basketball is forever doomed to be nothing more than an afterthought.
It's been three decades since UH basketball was a national power. Two decades since the program could be counted on to make a postseason appearance. There's been a lot of bad decisions made (Clyde Drexler, Ray McCallum, the installation of the bunker-like suites at the top of the Hofheinz concourses and many, many others). And those bad decisions have led to a point where it just appears that, but for a few hundred diehards who come out every night, nobody really gives a damn about Houston Cougars basketball.
UH's 77-55 win over Rutgers yesterday wasn't the most eagerly anticipated of games. UH had just been blown out by Louisville three nights earlier. Rutgers is a no-name, mediocre program that won't even be in the conference next season. The early tip time was dictated by the needs of television. But this game could've been played in prime time on a Saturday night and the attendance would've still been the same.
This is what happens when nobody cares. When the fan base has reached that point of apathy that it can't even draw fans for a game against UConn, one of the country's storied powers. The discussion's no longer about when the fan base will return. The discussion should now be about if the fan base will ever return.
Angry fan bases get angry because they care about a team, about a program. The anger comes from wanting better. From wanting the team to do better. No program should ever want an angry fan base because that means the program's doing something wrong. But an angry fan base is an engaged fan base. And engaged fan bases show up for games, follow the team, watch broadcasts. They're not happy, but the fans are still there.
Apathetic fan bases just don't give a damn. They could care less if a school fires a coach or goes to a new conference because odds are they didn't know the name of the just fired coach or what conference the team was actually playing in. They'll talk about the good old days, if they talk at all, because they know nothing about the state of the current program. Maybe they might come to a game, but only if there's nothing better to do, but there's almost always something better to do than to come out to an aging, worn-out facility. And hell, if the students don't give a damn, then why should the alumni?
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The fan apathy was easier to hide in the past, when the team was playing in Conference USA, a conference that, for the last part of Houston's tenure, consisted only of Memphis and a bunch of nobodies. Then it was easy to blame the lack of competition for fan disinterest. Or else nobody cared because of the lack of televised games. Or the team was just mediocre. But UH is in a real conference now, and all of the games are on television.
I'm a UH grad. I understand. I get it. The basketball program's been nothing better than mediocre since Pat Foster departed. Tom Penders had some success and consistently got the team into postseason play, though only once to the NCAA Tournament, but he's long gone. Most of the other coaching hires have been disasters. The team's failed time after time to build on positives. And while there's talent on this roster, it's still a bit of a mediocre team that will for the most part struggle when facing the big boy programs which dot the American Athletic Conference.
So I understand the apathy. Why buy into the promises yet again? Why drag yourself to a dreary building on a glorious Sunday morning when a game's being played at a time dictated by a television network and that's not the best time for fans. I don't necessarily like it, but I get it, and I understand.
UH will host Louisville in a couple of weeks, and Guy V. Lewis will be honored before the game. Hopefully fans will shake their apathy and show up for that game, if just to honor Coach Lewis. But it will be no shock if no one but the diehards are at the game. That's what happens when apathy overcomes the fan base. And the way things are going, apathy might never be defeated.