Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2012 Houston Cougar football attendance

The Coogs averaged 27,286 fans per game for seven home games this season, a drop-off of 4,445 fans/game from last season. This should come as no surprise, given the team's disappointing 2012 season. Here's the updated graph:
Attendance at UH football games is announced on the basis of tickets sold or distributed, not actual butts in seats. That was apparent, especially towards the end of the season, when the number of people in the stadium was clearly less than the attendance announced in the boxscore. Again, that's not surprising, given the team's performance; many people lost interest in the team and decided that they had better things to do on their Saturdays. That's just the way it works in a fair-weather, front-runner sports town like Houston.

With that fact in mind, I'm really concerned about attendance for the 2013 season. A lot of Cougar fans were no doubt turned off by the team's performance this past season and will not renew season tickets or make plans to attend any games in 2013 unless the team shows marked improvement. Season ticket sales will likely drop even further if the Cougars play their home games next year at Reliant Stadium, because the sheer size of the facility will mean that anybody who wants to see a particular game can walk up and get a ticket on gameday: there will be no incentive for fans to ensure that they have seats by buying season ticket packages.

My hope is that the team will be able to get back on track and achieve a winning record next season; that plus excitement surrounding the opening of the new stadium in 2014 will hopefully bring the crowds back in a couple of years and the program's attendance will resume its upwards trajectory.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

In Dubai, no mall is big enough

Has Dubai learned its lesson from its economic meltdown? When they announce stuff like this, I can't help but wonder:
After years of downsized ambitions because of a debt crisis, Dubai has unveiled plans for a new tourism-retail hub that will include a shopping complex that would outclass the Dubai Mall, billed as the world's biggest.

State news agency WAM says the planned development on the city's desert outskirts will include luxury hotels and a major theme park, a goal derailed by Dubai's fiscal meltdown in 2009.
No timetable was announced Sunday for the Mohammed Bin Rashid City.
Of all the things Dubai needs right now, I honestly don't think "another giant mall" is one of them. Between Deira City Centre, the Burjuman, Ibn Battuta Mall, Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall, Dubai has the "massive mall" thing pretty well covered. But apparently Sheikh Mohammed doesn't think so:
A massive new development unveiled yesterday by the Ruler of Dubai is to include the world's biggest shopping mall and more than 100 hotels.

Mohammed Bin Rashid City, which is also to encompass sprawling parkland, was announced yesterday by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and comes amid a resurgence in the emirate's economy.

"The current facilities available in Dubai need to be scaled up in line with the future ambitions for the city," Sheikh Mohammed said.

The development - a joint venture between Emaar Properties and Dubai Holding - is to be located between Sheikh Zayed Road, Emirates Road and Al Khail Road.

MBR City represents a revival of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Gardens project, first announced in 2008. The 2008 masterplan had suggested the Gardens project would cover 74 square kilometres, and cost $60bn (Dh220bn). It is not yet clear how closely the new plan is based on that.
 Plan for Mohammed bin Rashid City. (source: The National)
"Between Sheikh Zayed Road, Emirates Road and Al Khail Road" isn't the most helpful description of this proposed development's location because these three roads generally run parallel to each other. But upon closer inspection of the pictures accompanying The National article, it looks like MBR City will occupy the currently-empty space bounded by Al Barsha, Al Quoz, Nad Al Sheba and what currently exists of Dubailand. Reading between the lines, in fact, makes me think that this project is intended to replace that stagnated development:
The Mall of the World is to be partly developed by Universal Studios. Under the 2008 plan, a Universal Studios theme park was to be situated in the proposed Dubailand theme park, but that project has been on hold. It is not yet clear whether the original plan will now be incorporated within the mall.

The original plan for Dubailand included a golf course called The Tiger Woods, in partnership with the famous golfer.

Although that has stalled, yesterday's statement said MBR City would include "a number of golf courses under well-known international names".
While I'm glad that Dubai's economy is finally on the mend, this development, with the world's biggest mall, 100 hotels and multiple golf courses, seems eerily reminiscent of the speculative and superlative ("World's biggest this!" "World's tallest that!") development frenzy that got Dubai into so much trouble in 2008. Dubai's rulers and developers would do well to avoid repeating that frenzy, because as Alexander McNabb explained a couple of weeks ago, it was in fact a nightmare. He notes:
Through the recession, Dubai has slowly but surely been investing in the infrastructure it was ramping up to try and meet the demands of the boom. It's in better shape now than ever it was to encompass expansion and growth with confidence and a new maturity.

The million dollar question is whether we, collectively, have learned our lesson. Whether we can build for the future without being pitched back into the nightmare of the boom.
In the case of MBR City, it's actually a sixty billion dollar question. Stay tuned.

Coogs end disappointing season with 5-7 record

The disaster that was the 2012 University of Houston football season ended on a high note last Saturday, as the Cougars defeated the Tulane Green Wave, 40-17.

Senior quarterback Crawford Jones, making his second start in a row, completed 25 of 46 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns (but also three interceptions) and freshman running back Ryan Jackson carried the ball 16 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns. The Cougar defense, meanwhile, forced six Tulane turnovers and held the Green Wave running game to 43 yards for the entire game. The game was also the final game ever to be played at Robertson Stadium; I'll have more on this in a future entry.

 The win over Tulane was merely for pride; the Coogs guaranteed themselves a losing season (and eliminated themselves from bowl contention) when they lost to Marshall the previous weekend. Houston started out slow, falling behind 17-0 early in the game and trailing 38-17 late in the third quarter, but then mounted a furious rally to tie the game 41-41 late in the fourth. Although the Cougars might have even won the game had they called better plays and exercised better clock management on their final possession, the Thundering Herd kicked the game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of the game to clinch the 44-41 victory.

So now the season is over, and the post-football blues have set in.

No bowl game. I get to sit on my couch this holiday season and watch a bunch of other teams play in bowls while my team stays home.

No "feel-good" story about battling back from a disastrous start to a season. I was feeling good about the direction of this team after the Coogs put together three-game winning streak. They went on to lose four out of their last six.

And, no momentum heading into next season as the Cougars change conferences.

So what happened? Why did a team I predicted to notch at least eight wins in 2012 turn out to be "the most disappointing team in college football?" There's no question that a lot of talent was lost from last season, including Case Keenum, four starting wide receivers, two running backs and a handful of strong defensive players, not to mention Kevin Sumlin and most of his coaching staff. However, you're simply not going to convince me that the 2012 University of Houston football team was so bereft of talent that they could manage only five wins against such an easy schedule. Much of the blame has to fall of first-year coach Tony Levine and his staff. Last week, the Chronicle's Joseph Duarte took stock of the current situation:
A year ago, the Cougars were on the verge of putting the final touches on an unbeaten regular season and one win from joining the list of BCS busters.
Now, the Cougars need a win Saturday just to avoid matching their most losses since going 3-8 in 2004.
After an 0-3 start, which included a season-opening home loss to Football Bowl Subdivision newcomer Texas State, the Cougars climbed to .500 but never any better. UH didn't hold a lead until the fourth game of the season. A fitting bookend, they haven't led in any of the last three games.
The offseason switch to a four-man defensive front has come into question. Under first-year coordinator Jamie Bryant, the Cougars rank 102nd or worse in four major statistical categories.
Levine will conduct an offseason evaluation of the program starting next week.
There could be changes made to his staff. The David Piland era at quarterback appears to be over, with the Cougars expected to open up the competition in the spring and into preseason camp with the possible addition of a junior college quarterback and recruit John O'Korn from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"It starts with me," said Levine, who is on the hot seat with four years remaining on his contract but expected to return.
"I know where our program is headed, and I have a very, very, very clear understanding of what we have to do moving forward in a short amount of time to get where we are going to be," Levine said.
I can only hope that this isn't bluster coming from Levine and that really does understand what is needed in order for this team to improve; the team's performance over the course of the season as well as his bumbled hire of an offensive coordinator that he fired one game into the season don't give me a lot of faith in his abilities at the moment. But the program is stuck with Levine for the time being; there's no money with which to buy out his contract, and firing a head coach after one season would certainly generate bad publicity. The assistant coaches, however, are fair game and I hope to see a lot of changes over the offseason. Defensive coordinator Bryant, for starters, needs to be shown the door.

It's too early to predict what the Cougars are going to look like in 2013. Right now nobody even knows for sure where the Cougars are going to be playing their home games next year and, with conference realignment once again afoot it's anyone's guess as to what teams the Cougars will be playing in their new conference next fall. The only thing for certain is that the program needs to make some serious upgrades over the offseason - in the staff room as well as the locker room - lest this past season's buzzkill be repeated.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The afternoon before Thanksgiving

It's the afternoon before Thanksgiving, and I have miraculously navigated my way through a stressful and chaotic madhouse.

The crush of people made me uncomfortable and claustrophobic. The long, slow-moving lines were exasperating. Everybody was in a hurry. Everybody was impatient. Nerves were frayed, and patience was wearing thin amongst everyone.

It took everything I had to keep myself calm and polite. I managed to make my way through without completely losing it. I can now enjoy my holiday.

I'm not talking about the airport, by the way. I'm talking about my neighborhood grocery store.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Maryland, Rutgers and another realignment frenzy

A couple of months ago I opined that "we might finally be entering a period of stability in the conference realignment shuffle." Turns out I was wrong:
Just 24 hours after The University of Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten, Rutgers, the only major college football program in the New York metro area, announced that it will leave the Big East to join the Big Ten.
The move is based on two important factors in college sports: finances and prestige. 
The Big Ten Conference is comprised mostly of large, public research universities located primarily in the Midwest. Despite its name, the conference until this week included 12 teams: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin and Northwestern, the only private school among the group. 
The additions of Maryland and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, bring the total to 14.
Although the Big Ten has traditionally been a midwestern conference, the additions of the University of Maryland and Rutgers theoretically give the conference access to lucrative television markets in the District of Columbia, Baltimore, New Jersey and the New York City area. In an era when collegiate conference alignments are being dictated by football rather than basketball and by television sets rather than by geography or tradition, this is a good thing for the Big Ten.

The problem is that the Big Ten's moves are certain to set off another wave of conference realignment, as both the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East, which are currently home to Maryland and Rutgers, respectively, seek to replace the schools that they've lost. In the case of the Big East, this likely means the loss of Connecticut to the ACC. How the Big East, whose 2013 membership is already set to include far-flung schools such as Boise State and San Diego State, will react to this development remains to be seen.

It also remains to be seen if the additions of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten will be beneficial to all three parties. Forbes columnist Patrick Rishe sees the deal as "win-win-win," while ESPN's Adam Rittenberg describes the move as a gamble the Big Ten had to make. Dan Wetzel is more skeptical, asking "why in the world would the Big Ten, which is already struggling on a national level in its historic flagship sport of football, take on two programs known for decades of struggles?" Jonathan Chait is even more pessimistic:
The core of the financial logic of expanding the Big Ten, and other league expansions, as Derek Thompson has explained, is cable television. The Big Ten has its own network and can charge cable operators to carry it. The more people who live in the Big Ten’s footprint, the more households will be paying their cable operators an extra dollar a month or so to carry the Big Ten network. Hence the logic of adding Rutgers and Maryland. While the athletic traditions of both schools are, respectively, mediocre and terrible, they geographically encompass large, populous regions whose cable television subscribers will, for the most part involuntarily, be paying the Big Ten conference a chunk of their cable television bills.
In other words, as a profit-making mechanism, this is essentially a scam. It relies on an opaque pricing mechanism (bundled cable television) forcing people to pay for a product they don’t want. Right now, it’s a highly lucrative scam. But bundled cable television pricing is not going to last forever, and possibly not very long at all. There is already a revolution in video content under way that is going to render the cable television bundle model obsolete. When that revolution has finished, the Big Ten will realize it pulled apart its entire identity to grab a profit stream that has disappeared.
ESPN's Darren Rovell, meanwhile, casts doubt on the idea that Rutgers can deliver the New York City television market. It's well-known that NYC is not a college sports town, but apparently the Big Ten and its broadcast partners think that there are just enough Scarlet Knights fans in and around the five boroughs to make the addition of Rutgers worthwhile. Only time and TV ratings will tell.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Coogs wear cool uniforms but lose to Tulsa, 41-7

Last weekend's homecoming game against Tulsa turned out to be a massacre. The Cougars managed a late score to avoid being shut out at home for the first time since 1994. The only aspect of the game worth discussing is the interesting uniforms the Cougars wore.
Quarterback David Piland (8) consults with his offense as the game begins. In addition to the gray-and-red uniforms, the Cougars also wore special helmets with the "cougar head" logo on one side and a number 2 in honor of the injured D.J. Hayden on the other.
Piland hands off to running back Kenneth Farrow. Neither player had a great day; Piland completed 15 of 32 passes for 148 yards and two interceptions, while Farrow was only able to manage 54 yards on 15 carries. Neither player had a touchdown. Houston's offense managed a paltry 262 yards for the entire game and turned the ball over four times; second-string quarterback Crawford Jones threw a sixteen-yard pass to receiver Ryan Jackson midway through the fourth quarter for the Cougars' only touchdown.
The Tulsa Golden Hurricane offense lines up against the Cougar defense, which was generally ineffective. Tulsa managed 505 yards of total offense - 350 of those yards on the ground - as they cruised to an easy win over the hapless Coogs.

All in all, a rather forgettable game. In order to avoid a losing season, the Cougars will need to win their final two games: on the road against Marshall this weekend and at home against Tulane the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Five belated election thoughts

It took me a week, but I've finally been able to gather my thoughts about the 2012 presidential election.

1. I'm glad it's over. Every election cycle seems to become nastier and more obnoxious than the previous one, so it's no surprise that the 2012 election, featuring a sharply-polarized electorate, a hyper-partisan punditocracy, and a never-before-seen barrage of campaign ad spending by the campaigns and the third-party "Super PACs," was particularly ugly and tiresome.  And I don't even live in a swing state. Spending a week in Colorado over the summer, and watching the relentless stream of political advertisements on local television stations, made me realize just how miserable and unendurable the election had to be for people who actually lived in swing states.

2. In retrospect, the biggest surprise is how quickly the election was called and how decisive Obama's victory turned out to be. In the weeks leading up to the election, we heard a lot from political prognosticators about how close it was going to be, how we might not know the winner until all the provisional and absentee ballots were counted in Ohio weeks after election day, or how a split between the popular voter and the electoral vote was very possible. It turned out that the opposite occurred; the election was called relatively early in the evening after it was clear that Obama was going to win Ohio, and Obama went on to win all of the swing states with the exception of North Carolina to give him 332 electoral votes to Romney's 206. Not exactly a squeaker of an election.

3. Maybe it's time for both parties to stop nominating Massachusetts politicians for President. Michael Dukakis. John Kerry. Mitt Romney. 'Nuff said.

Seriously, though: it's interesting to see how closely the 2012 election resembled the 2004 election. Both elections featured a controversial and highly-polarizing incumbent with mediocre approval ratings facing off against a wealthy yet aloof and milquetoast Massachusetts politician with a history of flip-flopping on major issues. Both incumbents had baggage - Bush with the unpopular Gulf War, Obama with the economy and Obamacare - and probably could have been defeated by stronger, more inspiring opponents. But just as it wasn't good enough for Kerry to be the "Not Bush," it wasn't good enough for Romney to be the "Not Obama;" you have to give the electorate a reason to vote "for" you as well. Neither Kerry nor Romney met that threshold for enough swing-state voters.

4. Republicans shouldn't become too despondent, nor Democrats too cocky. Yes, this is a tough time for the Republican Party, as they search for answers and confront the meaning of their stinging loss. They are facing demographic and structural challenges which will doom the party to political minority status, at least in the near-term, if they are not addressed soon. They would do well to break out of their alternate reality cocoon, push back against the rabid Tea Party wing that is pulling them ever further to the right and away from the political mainstream, and focus on attracting more young, female and minority voters to their party (it's going to be hard for any Republican presidential candidate to win when they only attract 27% of the Latino vote). How they go about doing that is their business; whether or not they will do it is another story.

However, as exasperated and depressed as Republicans and conservatives might be, and as triumphant and ebullient as Democrats and liberals might be, both sides must keep in mind that in politics, nothing lasts forever. Remember how angry and despondent Democrats were after George Bush was re-elected in 2004? (They even came up with this map to express how they felt about the results of the election.) And remember how Republicans used the election to claim that they had indeed achieved the "permanent Republican majority" envisioned by political operative Karl Rove? Two years later, the Democrats reclaimed control of both houses of Congress, and four years later Obama was on his way to the White House. And let's not forget that, just two years ago, Republicans rode an electoral wave that put the House of Representatives firmly back in their hands, where it remains today. The pendulum swings back and forth. Both the winners and the losers of last Tuesday's election should keep that in mind.

5. We are still a purple nation. I said this four years ago, but it's worth repeating: while political pundits like to talk about "red" and "blue" America, it's not an entirely accurate reflection of this country's political reality. America is not "red" or "blue" so much as it is varying shades of purple.
County-level results of the 2012 Presidential Election. For more maps like this one, see this link.
Anyway, it's all over now. Hopefully both parties can quit focusing on politics for at least a short period of time and start focusing on the problems that this country faces. Wishful thinking, I know...

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Cougar football player narrowly avoids death

As important as college football is to so many millions of people around the country (myself included), and as worked-up as we as fans tend to get over it, we always need to remember that it still just a game, played by young men for the purpose of entertaining us and making us feel better about our school. Horrific incidents such as this one put really things in perspective:
Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden suffered an injury that "has never been seen or reported in association with a football injury" and has a 95 percent fatality rate, team physician Dr. Walter Lowe said Thursday.

In a statement released by UH, Lowe confirmed that Hayden required immediate surgery Tuesday night for a tear of the inferior vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body back to the heart.

Lowe described the injury as "very serious and life threatening."
The injury occurred during practice last Tuesday. Hayden, who has been one of the standout players on Houston's otherwise-struggling defense, suffered the injury after colliding with another player. He is now awake and in stable but critical condition at Memorial Hermann Hospital.
"This injury has never been seen or reported in association with a football injury and is more associated with high-speed motor vehicle," Lowe said.

Lowe credited the quick action of the UH training staff, EMS paramedics and the trauma staff at Memorial Hermann Hospital, including operating surgeon Dr. John Holcomb.
Considering that D.J. survived an injury that kills 19 out of every 20 people who suffer it, I'd say that he is very fortunate indeed. As physically violent as football might be, nobody should lose their life while playing it.

Hayden, who had six tackles in last weekend's 48-28 loss at East Carolina (a game I don't really feel like writing about, especially in light of this near-tragedy) is obviously done for the year. I wish him a speedy recovery, and hope that this truly was a freak accident that never again occurs in football.