Tom Herman and an Unhappy Renu Year

This post was previously published as a section in my weekly “Road to the Super Bowl” feature.

An Unhappy Renu Year

The Houston Cougars pulled a major upset last week and throttled the #6 ranked Louisville Cardinals, and got themselves back in the rankings. For University of Houston Chancellor and President Renu Khator, though, it had to feel like “too little, too late.”

I was working at UH when Dr. Khator was hired, and she was treated like a big celebrity, a “rock-star” hire, and she is one of the highest-paid public university administrators in the country (but don’t be confused, she doesn’t make football-coach money!). Her leadership has been nothing if not bold, which is another way of saying she’s been willing to spend a lot of money the school doesn’t really have, to the extent of running up debt of over $1 billion (that’s a “B”) for new building (“campus construction program”) and hires. One of her strategic initiatives was “athletic competitiveness,” and that meant sinking at least $140 million into a new on-campus stadium (who knows how much it really cost), and buying out football coach Tony Levine’s contract (a year after renegotiating it up) to spend even more on Tom Herman. Go big or go home, right?

In Farewell to Football? An American Fan’s Examination of Conscience, I explore the economics of college football and discover: “While Georgia may actually make money through their football program, at Houston like at most universities in America, the revenue stream runs in the other direction, the university having to subsidize the athletic department.” (p. 199) Click here to order a copy.

Unfortunately, the big gamble hasn’t really worked out. Herman’s first season looked good–the Cougars beat Florida State in a New Year’s Eve bowl game that paid pretty good

herman-pic-225x300
A couple of years ago, when Coach Herman was leaving Ohio State and coming to Houston.

money. This year, though, after a strong start that saw them beat Oklahoma in the opener and rise to as high as #6 in the rankings, the Cougars were denied entry into the Big 12 and then lost to Navy and, two games later, to SMU, to drop out of the rankings entirely. The upset of Louisville late in the season has to be especially frustrating to Dr. Khator, because it brought UH back into the rankings, but not high enough to get invited to a high-dollar bowl game at the end of the season. More importantly, Herman’s stock rose, and with Charlie Strong certain to be fired at Texas, and with an opening at LSU, UH is almost certain to lose their head coach. [UPDATE: they did lose Herman, to Texas.]

Explore the USA Today database to find out more about NCAA Division I athletics subsidies.

To sum it up, in the realm of football, Houston lost out on the big revenue of the Big 12, lost out on the big money of a New Year’s Eve bowl game, and will lose their big star head coach. That $1 billion (that’s a “B”) of debt won’t be going anywhere, though. Poor Dr. Khator, what an unhappy Renu year!

The Good News!

Thanksgiving is behind us, and two of the three NFL games on Thursday were pretty meaningful! Or, you could start reading my book (watch for upcoming Holiday Discount):

47767911_High Resolution Front Cover_6181606 (2)Farewell to Football? An American Fan’s Examination of Conscience. Click here to order a copy in paperback or Kindle format.

 

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