This is a year the Houston Cougars would probably prefer to forget. It started with a bang as the Cougars demolished Penn State on January 2 at the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas. But the football team wasn't quite the same after the departure of Case Keenum and his receiving corps. As the Cougars move into 2013, the key word to keep in mind is "uncertain" since there are many aspects of the Cougar athletic program that are uncertain.
5. Conference USA Is Dead, Long Live Conference USA
The Cougars are moving from C-USA to the Big East once the upcoming baseball season has ended. The Cougars are making this move in order to up the school's profile and to get in line for better bowl games and more TV money. But the Big East is imploding, and by the time this is posted, the conference could probably have lost two or three or four or five more schools. Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse have left. Rutgers and Louisville are also leaving. Seven non-football schools have announced they're leaving the conference (these are the so-called Catholic Seven basketball schools). And Boise State and San Diego State are still trying to decide whether to stay or go.
The Big East has started to raid other conferences to stop the bleeding, and the conference raided the most has been Conference USA. Houston, SMU, UCF, Memphis, ECU and Tulane are all in line to join the Big East, and it appears the Cougars have left C-USA for another version of C-USA. So instead of upgrading to a better conference, the Cougars are moving into another equally mediocre conference that might not even be able to get a TV contract that is as good as what they have in the real C-USA.
4. We Got Your Frequent Flyer Miles
Football-wise, the Big East currently stretches from the East Coast to the West Coast, spanning four time zones. So the Cougars are going to be spending a lot of time in airplanes. The football team will be journeying to Idaho, Pennsylvania and Florida this season. It's a bit different from this past season, where the Cougars played seven games at Robertson Stadium and one game at Reliant Stadium.
Of course, this schedule is still probably subject to change, especially if Boise State should decide to get the hell out. So you might want to hold off a bit before you purchase your tickets for those away games.
3. Coaches On The Hot Seat
Call it bad luck. Call it injuries. Or maybe mark it down to the hiring of the wrong assistant. Maybe a 5-7 season was just destined to a season after going 13-1. But it's doubtful the faithful fans expected such a huge drop-off in 2012. Tony Levine gets another chance as head coach of the team, but should they disappoint again, especially if the team fails to settle on a quarterback and fails to find a rhythm, then it shouldn't be too surprising to see Levine replaced.
I happen to be a fan of basketball coaches James Dickey and Todd Buchanan. They're always willing to talk to the press, and they both love selling the university to fans, students and parents. But if they have another disappointing season in the last year of C-USA play, then it's possible changes could be made with the basketball team as well. The men's team is off to a good start this season, while the women are struggling. However, nothing really matters until the conference season gets underway early next month.
2. Temp Facilities, Old Facilities
Robertson Stadium is dead and the Cougars are moving into Reliant Stadium (lease pending) for the 2013 season. It's safe to say that nobody will miss Robertson Stadium, though here's hoping that they save the palm trees.
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But basketball is still being played inside Hofheinz Pavilion, and despite the talk that came out when the Robertson Stadium replacement was announced, there's been nothing further done regarding the Hofheinz refurbishment.
1. Speaking Loud But Not Carrying A Big Stick
I know many supporters of UH athletics. They show up for all of the games. They wear red. They contribute money, and they tailgate. But unfortunately, there just aren't enough of these fans. UH fans can be loud talkers, especially on the radio and on the message boards. But these fans don't always bother to show up for games -- yes, Robertson was packed in 2011, but it wasn't packed last season. And good luck with getting a crowd to attend games at Hofheinz.
The excuses are always the same: The facilities are a dump; the neighborhood's not safe; they don't play anybody; C-USA is awful; there's no parking; who cares about UAB? But the excuses have to stop at some point. If the fans want media respect, if they want the radio guys to stop belittling them, if they want the Chronicle to devote one reporter solely to UH, these fans have to start showing up for everything. Sell out every football game. Pack Hofheinz. Engulf the stands at Cougar Field. If you truly care about the school, if you want others to care, then attend the games and show everybody that you care. Don't just show up when the teams win. Show up all of the time, starting in January. I'm not expecting this to happen, but it would be nice to be proven wrong.