Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why nobody attends UH basketball games

University of Houston President Renu Khator has taken to Twitter to exhort the UH faithful to come out and support the mens' basketball team. The 11-7 Cougars are averaging 3,128 tickets sold per game this season - the worst attendance average in the 10-team AAC - and the number of people actually in the seats at any given game is significantly smaller than that. Folks on UH sports message boards have begun to referring to Hofheinz Pavilion as "The Tomb" due to the lack of people in the stands.

The UH athletics department probably hoped that the Coogs' surprising upset over UConn on New Year's Eve would ignite interest in the basketball program. But that hasn't happened - hence, Dr. Khator's tweet - and John Royal explains why it's probably not going to happen:
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.
I freely admit that I'm part of the problem; I rarely attend UH basketball games these days because, well, the games just aren't much fun for me anymore. Sure, I should be a good alumnus and support my school's hoops program through thick and thin. But when the team plays one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the nation but still only manages an 8-5 record, when the program has made exactly one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last twenty-two years, when the head coach is an aging retread who was coaching middle school girl's basketball when he was hired, when attending Cougar basketball games feels less like entertainment and more like a chore... Well, I guess I've just reached "that point of apathy" that Royal writes about. There was a time when I really cared about UH basketball. Now I couldn't even tell you when the next home game is.
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 basketball has simply been too irrelevant for too long; the fan base has been worn down to almost nothing, and it's going to take a lot more than a tweet from Dr. Khator to get people - myself included - interested in the program again.

(Also, it's worth mentioning that as President, Dr. Khator can do a lot more about the state of the hoops program than simply tweeting about it, if she chose to do so.)

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