Houston breaches contract with UT

The University Houston, contractually obligated to provide 10,000 tickets to The University of Texas for this weekend's game between the two schools, unilaterally decided yesterday to remove temporary bleachers that would have held 4,150 of UT's 10,000-seat allotment. To make matters worse, the Houston athletics department didn't bother to notify The University of Texas athletics department about the move, according to Texas AD <B>DeLoss Dodds</B>.

Texas officials learned of UH's decision from a Houston press release posted on the school's website. An incredulous Dodds said Tuesday afternoon that he is "appalled" by the handling of the situation by Houston.

Almost a month ago, Texas officials contacted AD Chet Gladchuk to verify the safety of the bleachers, but apparently UH officials waited far too long to make improvements to the stability of the stands.

"We had professional engineers from inside and outside the university give us their best advice on what it would take to make these seats safe and secure beyond a reasonable doubt, not only meeting the technical standards of a professional engineer and all applicable code requirements, but also from the perception and feel of ticket holders," UH President Dr. Arthur Smith said. "While some additional modifications have been recommended by engineers as of (Monday), we still lack the overall professional certification of the structural integrity and safety of the stands that I have been seeking over the past four weeks. I have reluctantly concluded that there is no longer sufficient time to do what I’m convinced needs to be done to provide the necessary assurances to me and to the ticket holders that the seats are as safe as they should be. After I inspected the structure yesterday and climbed to its very top row, I asked myself if I would feel comfortable sitting there with my wife and daughter and granddaughter. The answer was no."

Houston, in a show of enormous hospitality, is offering fans that have tickets in the now-being-dismantled bleacher sections the opportunity to watch the game on a big screen TV at Hofheinz Pavilion. Isn't that special? And get this, UH is making UT handle any ticket refunds for Texas fans who don't take Houston up on their generous offer to simply watch the game on an oversized TV! Truly unbelievable.

With no help and little communication forthcoming from Houston officials today, Dodds and others in Bellmont scrambled through the afternoon trying to solve the problem, contacting both Rice and AstroDome officials about moving the game to one of those facilities. Both are available, according to Dodds (although one high school game would have to be moved), but U of H president Smith has again refused to move the game despite the obvious breach of contract playing the game at Robertson will entail.

The attitude forwarded by Smith is that he would rather have 4,000 angry Texas fans than 30,000 angry Houston fans. It seems to me that Smith may be overestimating the Cougars' following. Regardless, Orangebloods are getting the shaft in this deal.

I asked Dodds if The University had any other short-term recourse against the Cougars. The AD said the 10,000-ticket figure is clearly in the contract, obviously alluding to the fact that Houston is breaking that contract. "What we decide to do about (that breach of) the contract will take place on a day when we're more levelheaded than I am today about this," Dodds said. "The consequences of this and what we might be able to do about it, I guess it's premature to even get into that."

One thing should be noted: Mack Brown credited Houston with the decision to not allow fans in those seats knowing that they are unsafe, but the Texas head coach quickly added that this situation never should have arisen in the first place, particularly given the fact that Texas has pressed Houston on the safety issue for almost a month.

With this unprecedented move, Houston can kiss its already strained relationship with The University of Texas goodbye (and it can also kiss goodbye any chance of ever luring a top program to Houston again). When the Horns originally signed the contract to play U of H, the Cougars played their home games in the AstroDome. Since that time, however, Houston has renovated its on-campus facility and is trying to create a better college atmosphere at its home games. Because of that, the Houston commuter school refused repeated requests by Texas, made over a year ago, to move the game to either the AstroDome or to Rice Stadium, which was already a point of contention even before today's events.

The Horns and Cougs are scheduled to square off again next season in Austin, but you can bet that UT officials are in the process right now of determining their obligations given U of H's disregard for the contract as signed. Another safe bet is that UT will never, ever play Houston voluntarily in any sport again unless UH reverses course over the next day or so and allows the game to be moved to another venue that will accommodate Texas ticket holders.

Brown called on Houston to do the right thing, which would be to move the game, but the odds of that are slim to none. So Texas should do the right thing Saturday night, which is pour it on and reward those UT fans who make it into the stadium and those that are being denied what they paid for months ago highlight reel play after highlight reel play against the bush-league school on the bayou.

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