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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Sports

Big 12 news brings new excitement to UH student body


UH students cheer on the football team during the Cougars' route of Grambling State at TDECU Stadium. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

UH students cheer on the football team during the Cougars’ route of Grambling State at TDECU Stadium. | James Schillinger/The Cougar

Jake Van Alstine, a junior sports administration student, and his friends couldn’t hold in their excitement when the news became official, knowing that the landscape of Houston sports was about to change dramatically.

Michael Olle, a senior accounting and finance student, was filled with joy at this monumental moment for UH.

Many students had similar reactions to Van Alstine and Olle, as an overwhelming excitement filled the entire campus on Sept. 10 when the news that UH was joining the Big 12 took the college sports world by storm.

“I love it,” Olle said. “It is a very good thing for the school.”

An improved perception

For years, UH has been perceived as a second-tier school not only across the state of Texas but within the city of Houston.

President Renu Khator was the first to admit this, calling UH a “university of last choice” in her 2013 fall address.

Many Houstonian high schoolers wouldn’t even consider UH, wanting to go to a more prominent school with top-tier athletics and “bragging rights” according to Khator.

As a Houston native, Van Alstine experienced this first hand as many of his friends overlooked UH when going through the college application process.

But slap on the Big 12 label next to the UH logo and now the University has a sense of legitimacy.

“Now that we have the Power Five title and we’re in the Big 12, now all the sudden we’re taken so much more serious,” Van Alstine said. “It definitely improves the perception (of UH).”

From gaining Tier One status to building new facilities and improving old ones, UH students have seen firsthand how much the school has changed in a positive way under Khator.

But outside eyes have failed to notice UH’s rise no matter what the University did.

Students believe that gaining Big 12 status will open up the public’s eyes to everything that has taken place at the University over the past decade.

“There’s so many (great) things going on at UH already,” said senior supply chain management student Will Partridge. “Being in the Big 12 is just going to bring more attention to the University itself and all the new stuff we’ve been doing.”

Van Alstine echoed Partridge, believing that there will be a significant impact the number of students, especially from the Houston area, that consider UH for their four-year home in the near future.

“I think it could help just the average kid want to stay at UH,” Van Alstine said. “Kids, when they leave high school from the Houston area, feel like they want to be a part of big name schools. But now that UH is (in the Big 12) playing those big name schools, that could provide a lot more kids staying home to go to UH.”

Leveling up the competition

One of the biggest deterrents for UH students attending games has been the level of competition the Cougars faced.

Whether it was an American Athletic Conference foes such as Cincinnati and Memphis or an in-town rival like Rice, students have found it difficult to really get amped up for many UH athletic events.

“It’s tough when you’re playing teams that the casual fan wouldn’t know,” said Van Alstine.

Even with success in sports like men’s basketball, track and field and swimming and diving, UH students were constantly reminded that their school played in a so-called “weak conference” so the Cougars’ success shouldn’t be anything to get excited about.

“I remember last year during March Madness people were like ‘Yeah UH made it into March Madness but they just played a bunch of scrub teams in the American Athletic Conference,’” Partridge said. 

Everything about joining the Big 12 screams that UH students will show much more engagement towards the University’s athletic programs because of the improved competition and new rivalries that will form.

“My initial reaction (to UH joining the Big 12) was that we’re (going to be) playing better competition than in the American Athletic Conference,” Partridge said.

UH now has in-state rivalries across all sports that students can get excited about in Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU. Maybe even Texas for a year or two if the Longhorns don’t leave for the SEC before 2025.

“Now that we are playing against a lot of other Texas teams, it’s pretty exciting,” said junior photography student Carolina Yanez.

The men’s basketball program will host college basketball blue blood Kansas annually.

“Now people are going to be like ‘Kansas is coming to the Fertitta Center? I have to be at that game,’” Van Alstine said. “People are going to be busting down the door for it.”

Ultimately, joining the Big 12 provided the spark needed to reignite UH students passion and school spirit.

“It will make a difference being in a better conference for sure,” Partridge said. “Students are going to want to see us playing some of these really good teams.”

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