HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS

There's no way around it, overcoming this obstacle is still a big concern for Houston​

Joining the Big 12 doesn't guarantee a spike in ticket sales. Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Last week Texas Monthly ran an interesting and perplexing article: Can (University of) Houston Football Figure Out a Way to Fill Seats?

The article was written by my friend and former radio partner Richard Justice. But let’s not hold that against the article. Richie did a terrific job here.

Justice offers many reasons why the Cougars, despite recent on-field success, well paid and respected coaching staff, generous funding, excellent facilities, Top 25 ranking, and bowl game appearances, have trouble packing their comparatively small 40,000-capacity TDECU Stadium.

Most times, UH crowds are around 25,000. The last time they drew 30,000 fans was in 2018. Last time UH played in front of 40,000 fans at home was in 2016.

Meanwhile, the University of Texas and Texas A&M routinely draw crowds in excess of 100,000 fans. Of course, the main reason for UH’s drawing woes is because the Coogs play in the American Athletic Conference, a non-Power 5 conference. So big name, ticket-selling opponents, whose fan base travels to road games, rarely visit TDECU Stadium. UH’s football schedule is dominated by conference rivals like East Carolina, Memphis, South Florida, Temple, Tulane, Tulsa and others.

UT will host No. 1 Alabama this Saturday. Good luck finding a ticket for 100,000 capacity-plus Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Other teams on UT’s schedule include No. 9 Oklahoma, No. 8 Oklahoma State, and No. 9 Baylor.

No. 6 Texas A&M will play No. 16 Miami, No. 15 Florida, No. 18 Arkansas, No. 1 Alabama, No. 22 Mississippi, plus traditional bowl-bound LSU and Auburn.

There isn’t a single Top 25 team on UH’s remaining schedule.

Next year, UH is moving to the Big 12 Conference which should boost interest and attendance for the Cougars. However, the Big 12’s most glamorous members, UT and Oklahoma, are following Texas A&M’s exodus to the mighty Southeastern Conference.

Justice points out that UH is largely a commuter school. Only 8,000 students of its 40,000 enrollment live on campus.

I’d like to add two more reasons why UH football doesn’t draw huge crowds that its players and coaches deserve. And there’s nothing that UH can do to fix these reasons.

UH plays in a city where there’s an NFL team. And UH plays in a city where fall is the prettiest season of the year.

College teams that play in NFL cities typically have trouble drawing fans. It’s just the way it is. Here’s a headline from last week’s college football roundup: “USC Embarrassingly Couldn’t Fill Stadium During Debut of Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams.”

If USC, playing in a Power 5 conference, in America’s second-largest city, with a new celebrity head coach and Heisman candidate quarterback, had huge sections empty at its first game this season, what hope does UH have selling out its home opener against Kansas on Sept. 17?

While there are a few college teams that thrive in NFL cities, the majority of powerhouse college teams play in non-major markets, where the colleges have their city and local headlines to themselves.

This was the preseason college Top 10 for 2022: Alabama (Tuscaloosa), Ohio State (Columbus), Georgia (Athens), Clemson (Clemson), Notre Dame (South Bend), Texas A&M (College Station), Utah (Salt Lake City), Michigan (Ann Arbor), Oklahoma (Norman) and Baylor (Waco).

Let’s look at the biggest college football stadiums: Michigan Stadium (Ann Arbor, capacity 107,601), Beaver Stadium (State College, 106,572), Ohio Stadium (Columbus, 104,944), Kyle Field (College Station, 102,733), Neyland Stadium (Knoxville, 102,455), Tiger Stadium (Baton Rouge, 102,421), Bryant-Denny Stadium (Tuscaloosa, 101,821), Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (Austin, 100,119), Sanford Stadium (Athens, 92,746), Rose Bowl (Pasadena, 90,888).

They’re all miles and worlds apart from the big city lights of the NFL.

Let’s not forget that Houston (the city) has a lot more to offer than football on Saturdays. Fall is perhaps the nicest, most outdoorsy season in Houston. We have 57 golf courses, boating, swimming, tennis, outdoor dining, Washington Avenue and festivals.

Or you can buy a ticket to watch Temple, a commuter college in downtown Philadelphia, where the NFL Eagles own the city, play UH at TDECU Stadium on Nov. 12.

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It more of the same from the Houston Texans. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

Sunday afternoon provided a high-res snapshot of the state of Houston sports. The Astros, already assured of the best record in the American League, played a game they didn’t need to win. The Astros won, ho-hum, their 104th win of the season.

Meanwhile, eight miles away, the Texans, mired in last place with fan support dwindling, played a game they really needed to win. The Texans lost 34-24 to the Los Angeles Chargers in front of (giggle) 69,071 fans at NRG Stadium. The Texans really ought to stop saying the stands are packed. Every time a team punts, and cameras follow the ball skyward, there are thousands of empty seats on display. I know the NFL methodology for determining attendance, (total tickets sold, no-shows don’t count) but it just looks silly when the Texans announce 69,000 fans.

The Texans came close as usual before sputtering to another defeat. The Texans now stand at 0-3-1, the only winless team in the NFL. It’s the second time in three years they’ve started a season without a victory after four games. It’s telling to note that not one of the Texans opponents has a winning record for 2022.

In other words, the Texans have played four games they shoulda/coulda won. Shouda against the Colts, Broncos and Bears, and coulda against the Chargers.

Should/coulda four wins. Instead, none.

That’s the Texans. They’re in every game but can’t close the deal. Yeah, yeah, on Monday we hear, “the Texans are playing hard for coach Lovie Smith” and “they’re competitive” and “they’re a young team.” These are NFL equivalents of a participation trophy.

Sunday’s loss to the Chargers at NRG Stadium was straight out of the Texans playbook. Fall behind, make it interesting, lose. The Texans stuck to their script, timid play calling, momentum-crushing penalties (nine for 67 yards), self-inflicted drops, lackluster quarterbacking and Rex Burkhead on the field for crunch time. After one play where a Texan player was called for holding, the announcer said, “and he did a poor job of holding.”

Statuesque quarterback David Mills keeps saying “we’re in a good spot” and “we’re improving.” Statuesque as in he doesn’t move – or barely moves to avoid sacks. Sunday saw his first touchdown pass to a wide receiver. He’s now thrown four interceptions in the past two games. Let’s go to the tote board: 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 4 fumbles, 11 sacks, qbr rating 28.5 – good for 28th in the league.

A bright spot, sort of. This was the first week the Texans didn’t cover the spread. They’re now 1-2-1 against Vegas oddsmakers, meaning you’ve won money if you took the Texans all four weeks. They head to Jacksonville next as early 6.5-point underdogs.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s brilliant quarterback Bryce Young, who will be available for the Texans when they draft first in 2023 (as Paul Heyman says, that’s not a prediction, that’s a spoiler), suffered a shoulder injury last Saturday. The Texans need to take out a Lloyds of London insurance policy on Young.

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