Culture / Sporting Life

UH to Build a New State of the Art Football Building — How the Big 12 Transition is Accelerating

A PaperCity Exclusive

BY // 11.22.21

Winning — and membership — has its privileges. With Dana Holgorsen’s University of Houston football program 10-1 and headed to the Big 12 by 2023, the school is getting ready to announce a new state of the art football building designed to help elevate the program even further.

“We’ll announce a new football facility soon,” Houston athletic director Chris Pezman tells PaperCity. “You’re not missing anything (here). We’ve eliminated a lot of excuses why you can’t stay home. You can’t rest on it. There’s always something else we have to work on.

“But we’re setting ourselves up for our best days to be ahead. Which is saying something right now considering the success we’re having.”

The brand new football building will be the program’s version of the Guy V. Lewis Development Facility that the men’s and women’s basketball programs share. It is expected to include a plush locker room, team meeting areas, academic facilities, office space and more. With the much larger roster sizes in football, it figures to be bigger than the $25 million, 53,000-square-foot Guy V. Lewis center.

“With where we’re going that has to happen,” Pezman says of the new football building. “We planned for it a couple of years ago and the pandemic hit, so we threw it on the shelf because it was bad timing. Now that we’re on the other side of that, we’ve been having conversations with people that can make it happen.

“There’s always something else, but this is the last kind of frame of the house that we need.”

Football buildings can be a powerful recruiting tool — and the nation’s most elite (and crazy rich) programs sometimes have ones that are almost Taj Mahal worthy. Oregon has a $68 million football facility (thanks in part to its Phil Knight money) that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. Alabama’s football center was partially designed by Nick Saban as part of $600 million overall athletic facilities upgrade plan at the school.

Many of these football buildings come with tricked out game rooms — and hydrotherapy pools. Of course, Alabama’s hydrotherapy pool also has four waterfalls — just because it can.

“I’m excited to get (the new building) going because it will really, really help with their development and recruiting, and the stature of the program,” Pezman says.

UH’s Big 12 Transition Vision

If you build it, they will win even more? UH president Renu Khator, Pezman and rest of the university’s leadership already has seen that work in The Third Ward.

“It’s kind of cool — whenever we’ve built something, within two years there’s a direct impact on that sport in success,” Pezman tells PaperCity. “Like we built Guy V. Lewis, within the next one or two years we were in the (NCAA) Tournament and won our first game in the tournament in 30 years.

“We open the Fertitta Center, same thing. It even goes back to TDECU (Stadium). We open it and two years later, we’re in the Peach Bowl.”

The hope is that this new football facility will be part of a similar jump once the University of Houston is already in the Big 12, playing a high level of competition. To make that happen, the time is essentially now.

“We’re setting ourselves up for our best days to be ahead. Which is saying something right now considering the success we’re having.” — UH athletic director Chris Pezman

“We’re waiting on the lead gift,” Pezman says. “It will be announced pretty soon. From the time you break ground, you probably figure 24 months (till completion). It will take about six months to design, then another two, two and a half years.”

UH athletic director Chris Pezman and president Renu Khator know that a new football building is essential as the program jumps into the Big 12. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
UH athletic director Chris Pezman and president Renu Khator know that a new football building is essential as the program jumps into the Big 12. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

The new football building is part of a Cougars athletic department that is expanding its vision even further, approaching its transition to the Big 12 with a clear plan for every single program.

“It changes everything,” Pezman says. “Literally every aspect. And that’s what we’ve been working on since the announcement. This is where we are and this is where we need to be as we transition into the Big 12. We need to invest and get better.

“There’s some programs that are set up more completely. Basketball is the closest. There are other sports, the depth of the roster, the way we build rosters, recruiting resources — all those things — we’ve still got some work to do. Which is good. We’ve got time to get there. It’s not tomorrow.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. But it’s a high res problem. This is all fun stuff. This is the best stuff.”

For Pezman, it’s not just about football and the men’s basketball juggernaut Kelvin Sampson has built — as driving as those two programs are for the overall department. He brings up the UH women’s soccer team having its best season ever, beating three ranked teams with senior forward Jazmin Grant earning first team all-conference honors. He’s beyond excited that the women’s volleyball team “is fighting for a championship” under coach David Rehr.

The AD who greets every football player he can grab with a high five and, in many cases, a hug as they come off the field after beating Memphis to finish the conference season undefeated on Friday night, knows many of the so-called non-revenue sports athletes personally too.

This new football building is an important step, but it will not be the only athletic facilities upgrades the university makes.

“You see one team having really high-level success,” Pezman says, “and all of a sudden, the other teams and student athletes feed off of that. And that converts into success. Obviously, we’ve had some other programs have that recently. Track and Field for sure.”

It is a good time to be a University of Houston athlete — a time of growth. And serious building.

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