By Sean Pendergast for Houston Press


“Always in motion is the future.”–Yoda

Since the summer of 2010, when collegiate athletics’ massive wave of conference realignment began, the goal for most of the FBS schools sitting on the margins of college football, outside of the stated “power conferences,” has been survival.

Survival and access, really. Access to college football’s major bowls, access in recruiting top high school talent, access to the millions in television revenue the networks can’t spend fast enough.

For middling schools like the University of Houston, navigating the ever-shifting landscape and trying to gain that access has been like walking a tight rope.

In snowshoes.

The Coogs’ safari through the realignment jungle started in December 2011, when they accepted a bid to upgrade their conference affiliation, leave Conference USA, and join the Big East Conference (which sounds geographically illogical until you consider that Boise State and San Diego State briefly agreed to join the Big East in that same wave of membership expansion).

At the time of Houston’s Big East invitation, the conference still had an automatic bid to a lucrative BCS bowl and was thought to be on the cusp of a major television deal. The revenue outlook was rosy, and UH itself was coming off its best season in two decades (a Case Keenum-led 13-1 campaign).

Life was glorious, so the timing was perfect to finally tear down Robertson Stadium and raise the money to build a new football home, a home worthy of the BCS conference team the Coogs would soon be.

And so it was, that in a February 2012 vote, which UH Athletics Director Mack Rhoades called a “statement moment,” students overwhelmingly approved additional fees that would help the school pay for the new stadium. Regents approved an $85 million finance package, and the project was on.

Destruction of Robertson would begin after the 2012 season, in December that year. Oddly enough, the unforeseen destruction of the Big East, UH’s new home and life raft, would begin about that same time.

On December 15, 2012, several Big East basketball-only schools broke off to form their own conference, which was essentially the death blow to the Big East as it had been constituted since adding football in the early ’90s. By the time the fallout was complete, Houston would be playing in some newly morphed subset of the old Big East called the American Athletic Conference.

With no organic rivalries and a geographic footprint that would choke most travel budgets, the AAC was every bit the hot mess that it sounds like.

Even worse, by 2014 this hodgepodge conference would no longer have automatic BCS bowl access, mainly because in June 2012 college football power brokers had voted to replace the BCS with a four-team college football playoff in 2014, a playoff to which the AAC would have virtually no access.

In short, the tectonic plates of collegiate athletics had essentially shifted the AAC and, in turn, the Cougars back into a slightly more competitive version of the conference purgatory they were in as a member of C-USA.

The one saving grace? The new stadium, approved months before the Big East earthquake, was still coming.

Thankfully, for UH fans, nothing could stop that.

And now, nearly two years later, it’s here.

On August 29, the school will unveil TDECU Stadium, its new $120 million on-campus football home, in a nationally televised game against the University of Texas-San Antonio.
For longtime Cougar fans who have become accustomed to antiquated Robertson Stadium, the TDECU experience will feel like an upgrade from a Motel 6 to the Marriott Marquis, with ample seating room, beautiful downtown skyline views and a nearly 3,000‑square‑foot video board.

Also, equally importantly, TDECU Stadium itself will generate significantly more revenue than its dilapidated predecessor, with donations tied to specific seating locations, suite sales and premium seats expected to conservatively drive revenue up by 30 percent or more. The 26 premium suites as well as the four open-air party decks are sold out for the season.

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