Less than a year away from officially becoming a Big 12 member, UH’s impending move to a Power Five conference is already affecting the University as a whole in a positive manner.
From newfound excitement around UH athletics to a growing positive perception of the University from the outside, here are some things to look forward to as the Cougars prepare to join the Big 12.
One of the most anticipated aspects of UH’s move to the Big 12 is the new rivalries that will be created. While the University created rivalries with schools like Memphis, Rice and SMU as a member of Conference USA and the American Athletic Conference, all these matchups lacked the true big-time rivalry atmosphere seen across college athletics.
Being in the Big 12 will change that as the Cougars will take on more well-known and nationally relevant brands across all sports on a regular basis.
From blue-blood Kansas coming to Fertitta Center annually to take on the UH men’s basketball team to playing elite football programs like Oklahoma State to competing in one of the strongest baseball and softball conferences in the nation, the move to the Big 12 will elevate UH athletic events to a level never seen before.
“I love great rivalries. Our school loves great rivalries,” said Chairman of the UH System Board of Regents Tilman Fertitta. “ I just can’t tell you how excited we are to be a part of this.”
One main reason for higher-level rivalries is many of the schools UH will compete against across all sports are from Texas including Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech and even University of Texas for two years if the Longhorns don’t jump ship to the SEC before 2025.
Not only should playing in-state schools make for more electric gameday environments at TDECU Stadium, Fertitta Center and other stadiums on campus but it will allow UH fans the opportunity to travel relatively short distances within Texas to watch the Cougars compete on the road.
Houston produces some of the country’s top athletes across a wide variety of sports, especially in football and basketball, which makes the city one of the top recruiting hubs in the U.S.
Located in the heart of the city, it would seem like this would give UH a huge advantage to recruit the immense amount of talented high school athletes right in its backyard.
But the University struggled to keep the hometown talent within the city because playing in a Power Five conference was a top priority for nearly all of the country’s most coveted recruits.
“We didn’t get them out of high school because we weren’t Power Five,” said UH head football coach Dana Holgorsen.
The non-Power Five barrier that plagued UH in recruiting for years was immediately lifted when the University announced it had accepted an invite to join the Big 12.
The phones started ringing and top-rated high school student athletes who never would have answered a call from UH in the past picked up the phone and expressed serious interest in the University.
The boost in recruiting could not have been more evident than within the Cougars’ football program. UH’s 2022 recruiting class ranked 27 spots higher nationally than its 2021 class as Holgorsen and his staff have brought in coveted high school athletes like four-star wide reviewer Matthew Golden and three-star center Demetrius Hunter.
Recruiting across all UH’s athletic programs will only improve in the years to come because of the Big 12 label the University has.
“There is no but anymore,” Holgorsen said. “They can’t use (UH not being in a Power Five conference) as an excuse anymore. So we have more conversations and were in that race (for top-ranked recruits) more than we’re not.”
Catching more eyeballs
The upcoming move to the Big 12 has already done more than just affect UH athletics, it’s changing the way people see the University as a whole.
At the beginning of the summer, UH president and chancellor Renu Khator told the media that UH received a record-breaking 38,286 freshman applications for the 2022 fall semester.
Both Khator and UH vice president for athletics Chris Pezman directly correlated this with the move to the Big 12 as it put the University on the map for many high school students as a potential destination to pursue their college education.
“We had our highest ever applications for freshman admissions this year,” Pezman said. “You can absolutely tie a correlation into those two things – the success of the athletic program and the visibility it provides the University for applications.”