In recent years, the University of Houston has built great cathedrals to house its teams. They have been built for one reason: to test the promise of “If you build it, they will come.” UH’s path to its current position has been a rough trail to ride. After the breakup of the Southwest Conference, UH lost the powerful conference position needed to bankroll its programs and facilities. The school was faced with a great chicken or the egg conundrum: Could you build great programs with terrible subpar facilities, and then use the support from the program to finance newer facilities? Or did UH have to find a way to build the facilities first?
The football program had seen successful seasons under the helms of Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin, even reaching the single digits in national rankings a few times. The exploits of Case Keenum were greatness that few athletes achieve. That wasn’t enough to secure funds for a new stadium. The University asked the student body to invest in the program by giving the last capital needed to build what is now TDECU Stadium. The program paid dividends within two years by capturing a conference title and winning the first New Year’s Six bowl in team history.
The Cougars basketball program had been as close to dead as a program could be for over 20 years. Save for one conference title win to sneak into the NCAA tournament, there had been nothing to show that this was a program that was once known around the country as “Phi Slama Jama” and had given birth to several top NBA stars.
Kelvin Sampson’s arrival sparked an interest that the team hadn’t enjoyed in quite some time. Sampson helped build energy to modernize the program, and the first meaningful upgrade for the team came in the state-of-the-art Guy V. Lewis practice facility. The practice facility was followed by back to back NIT tournament appearances. Those brought the momentum necessary for Tillman Fertitta to decide to put his money where his mouth is. The season the team was away from home due to construction saw the first tournament victory since 1984. The newly christened Fertitta Center has yet to see a defeat. The current roster gives UH a legitimate chance for a national championship.
UH’s commitment to upgrading the athletic facilities is not limited to its top performers economically. The last few years have seen the baseball program receive a new playing surface, the largest screen in college baseball at the time, and a clubhouse featuring indoor batting cages, a Hall of Fame, top-flight locker rooms, and a beautiful deck to overlook the field. The national championship contending track program now has its own banked track. This enables them to host meets during the indoor season to attract even more talent. The softball program received its own indoor facility and scoreboard update this season as well.
All these upgrades are the catalysts for the current run of success that UH has seen. The successes both on the fields of play and in recruiting would not be possible had the facilities not been upgraded to their current levels. College Gameday, ESPN’s flagship program, is coming to town this weekend to see the faceoff with UCF. “Field of Dreams” was right, it seems: UH has a lot more visitors now as major construction is starting to slow. The people have come, and they have paid great attention. The national attention gives the Cougars more opportunity to show that they are worthy of a P5 conference, and the instantaneous, continuous, and undying credibility that comes with the inclusion.