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Thursday, November 30, 2023


By the numbers: Houston’s Big 12 dreams


The attendance last season at TDECU started well, with the Cougars selling out the first game, but attendance dropped during the rest of the season, and crossed 30,000 just three times all season. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Among speculation of the Big 12 looking toward expansion, Houston supporters  have expressed a desire to see the Cougars selected for membership.

While UH seems to be the sensible decision in expansion, rumors indicating that Houston is a candidate have sent Cougar supporters into a fever pitch.

But as we’ve seen in the past, Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 Conference commissioner, and the Conference aren’t exactly in a rush to expand.

Despite all the indications that the Big 12 is set for the time being, rumors have still swirled, and support for a move for the Cougars soars.

The biggest question: does a move to the Big 12 make sense?

Athletically, the Cougars have suffered from a series of difficult years on the football field, with just 21 wins in the past three seasons, but the hiring of Tom Herman has brought excitement back to the program.

But Houston making the leap into the Power 5 isn’t just about wins and losses, because when it comes to football, money and the Big 12, it’s so much more than a game.

Arguably the biggest thing working against the Cougars is the market share Houston would add to the Big 12. Despite the Cougars location in one of the largest cities in the nation, the Big 12 might look to add a new market to up revenues with expansion into cities like Orlando or Cincinnati.

Let’s ignore all that for a moment though and just look at numbers we can see.

Football reigns in the south, and will factor largest into which team will join the Big 12.

One of the critiques from the past season for UH was that the stadium seemed half-empty more times than full last season. Houston averaged 28,311 fans per game, putting them sixth in conference in average attendance.

If we look at percentage of the max capacity, UH filled 71 percent of their stadium on average, which bumps their ranking up to fifth in the AAC.

Now, let’s take a look at the numbers from the Big 12, Houston’s prospective new home.

Each school in the Big 12 averages at or above 90 percent with the exception of Kansas, who averaged just 68 percent filled this past season. Additionally, the average size of stadiums in the Big 12 is 61,777 seats, putting UH at about a 21,000 seat deficit.

Based on average attendance per game, Houston would have ranked last in the Big 12 last season, trailing 10th place Kansas by 5,766 seats filled, and league-leading Texas by 65,792.

Should UH join the Big 12, fans might turn out more because they’d see the Cougars playing against better competition, but what happens if the Cougars start losing?

The teams of the Big 12 are at a completely different level of competition from those in the AAC, and when the losses and poor play started to add up for Houston last year, attendance started to drop.

The Cougars sold out just one game last season: the home-opening loss.

The following week, attendance dropped to barely over 30,000 fans, and UH cracked 30,000 just one more time last season, the homecoming loss against Tulane, which saw an attendance numbers of 32,205.

Look at the numbers of another slumping Texas school from last season in the University of Texas Longhorns.

UT was first in the Big 12 last season, with an average attendance of 94,103, but tied for sixth with a percentage of capacity at 94 percent.

All these numbers don’t mean that UH doesn’t belong in the Big 12, but just that they don’t belong in the Big 12 right now.

Houston is striving for notoriety both on and off the field, and have a good chance to prove that they are here to stay this year.

A strong performance by Tom Herman and Houston, including a run at a conference championship and a strong bowl game would go a long way to furthering the Cougars’ cause.

But, after all, it’s just a game, right?

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