Prioritizing needs: a look at the mindset behind Houston Cougars athletics’ necessities

Feb 22, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Cougars fans cheer before the game against the Tulane Green Wave at Fertitta Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Prioritizing needs: a look at the mindset behind Houston Cougars athletics’ necessities

Since being left out of the original Big 12 following the collapse of the Southwestern Conference, the Houston Cougars have been trying to claw their way into a Power Five league.

As the years of not being in a power conference grew into decades, so did the gap in resources between UH and its Big 12 counterparts.

Now that Houston is joining the Big 12, it is trying to close that gap with the resources it has available. Closing the discrepancy ranges from building a new facility — the Football Operations Center, or FOC — upgrading its current facilities, and hiring more staff within the athletics department.

UH vice president for athletics Chris Pezman talked to Gallery Sports in a one-on-one interview about those gap-closing areas. He also touched on the importance of prioritizing its needs as it enters the Big 12.

“We have to be mindful of finding that balance,” Pezman said. “We are still upgrading every aspect of our programs. Rosters, operation budgets, salaries, anything and everything that goes into supporting our programs.”

UH priorities

Houston’s biggest priority right now is constructing the FOC. In order to be on par with other Power Five schools across the country, the football team needs its own stand-alone facility to serve as its home base, football head coach Dana Holgorsen and Pezman have said in the past.

UH is also focusing on renovations to its current facilities. Once Houston completes the FOC, it is also planning on renovating the Athletics-Alumni Center, Pezman said.

Houston is also working on upgrades to the Guy V. Lewis Development Facility, which houses both men’s and women’s basketball, Pezman told Gallery Sports in March. The focus of those upgrades is on the second floor of the building, which is where the players spend the bulk of their time when not at practice.

Houston is also working on upgrades to TDECU Stadium. UH is adding 10 new suites and two new party decks. The decks will be on the tower side of the stadium for the 2023 season, Pezman said. UH is also planning on addressing restroom and concessions needs at the 300 level at TDECU Stadium.

“We have a plan to fix that. I know [it] is a big issue for people that are in the upper stands. They don’t have to come down to the main concourses to get those services [with the upgrades],” Pezman said. “That is what is coming.”

Justifying projects

The buzz of the Big 12 move is already impacting Houston in a positive way such as with ticket sales for the 2023 football season and Houston Rise campaign donations. Even so, UH is still behind when it comes to the financial resources it needs to address all of its needs, Pezman said.

UH needs to be frugal with its decisions because of that.

Some ideas that have been brought forth by UH fans and alumni over the years, which range from adding a roof canopy to TDECU Stadium to moving the TV cameras at Fertitta Center so students are showcased instead of the club seats during games, have reached Pezman.

A general picture of fans cheering as the Houston Cougars basketball team goes on to defeat Memphis Tigers at Fertitta Center. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
A general picture of fans cheering as the Houston Cougars basketball team goes on to defeat Memphis Tigers at Fertitta Center. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Not every desire has a big enough financial benefit to justify doing it, he said.

“It is a resource issue,” Pezman said. “Certainly, we’d love to move [the TV cameras], but we are moving it because people want to see more stands on a TV image, right? Let’s think about what we are talking about.

“… the return on that million dollars to relay the cable to the other side and the cost to flip it, that million dollars I would much rather put into our sports programs. Not that it is not important, it is just that it is not as important as other needs at this point.”

Filling the bench

As Houston embarks on its journey as a Power Five school, Pezman’s mindset when committing to a project revolves around the benefit it will bring to the university’s athletics programs.

The renovations to its facilities and the construction of the FOC are one piece of the puzzle. Investing in its own staff is another. Pezman described its current athletics administration staff as a shallow bench. That is something UH is seeking to address, he added.

An example is the hire of Jason Bauman. He was brought on in late March to be UH’s associate athletics director for facility and event management operations.

“We have to be very focused on our external efforts. Particularly around marketing, development, how we raise money, how we communicate how we raise money, how we are being aggressive with maximizing our revenue opportunities,” Pezman said.

Houston is planning to hire additional personnel to the athletics department ahead of the Big 12 move, which will be announced over the course of the next few weeks, Pezman said. The goal is to keep closing the rift between UH and its soon-to-be Big 12 rivals.

“That is the gap that we are focused on closing,” Pezman said. “That goes into so many aspects of our operation — ticket sales, the box office, making sure we are staffing those guys appropriately. Making sure that we have access to people.”

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